The crowd burned Israeli flags and threw rocks at security forces as protesters denounced the killing of five Egyptian border guards last month. The guards were killed as Israeli troops pursued militants who had crossed from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and carried out a deadly attack north of the Israeli resort town of Eilat.
Late Friday, protesters appeared to have reached the embassy’s foyer, throwing documents from a balcony, said an Israeli official quoted by Reuters news agency. It was not clear whether the documents were sensitive. Egyptian security forces used tear gas and sent a string of armored personnel carriers to try to clear away the protesters.
Egyptian Deputy Health Minister Hamid Abaza told the Associated Press that at least three people died and more than 1,000 were hurt during the street clashes with police. Earlier, the state-run Middle East News Agency said that 448 people were injured in the fighting around the embassy, including 46 police officers.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident, which led to the departure of the Israeli ambassador and nearly all of his staff, a serious breach of bilateral relations.
“The fact that Egyptian authorities ultimately acted with determination is laudable,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by an official in his office. “That said, Egypt cannot conduct business as usual after this harsh blow to the fabric of relations with Israel and gross violation of international norms.”
Israeli officials who tracked events during the night described tense hours during which Netanyahu spoke by phone with President Obama to seek help in protecting the embassy and extricating six Israeli security guards trapped inside when a mob broke through an outer door into the public reception and consular affairs area. The ambassador and other embassy staff were not in because it was Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, and a day off in Egypt, when the embassy is closed.
Netanyahu was also in contact with the Egyptian chief of intelligence, Gen. Murad Muwafi, a member of the ruling military council, according to the officials. Defense Minister Ehud Barak meanwhile, spoke to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and with Dennis Ross, the president’s Middle East adviser on the National Security Council, his office said in a statement early Saturday. The statement said Barak had asked Panetta and Ross “to protect the embassy from the demonstrators who broke into it,” but Israeli officials later clarified that to say that the request was for the Americans to press the Egyptians to take action.