Egypt has lodged an official protest to Israel demanding an investigation into the killings of three security officials during an Israeli military operation near the border, Egyptian state media reported.
"Egypt filed an official complaint with Israel following yesterday’s deaths at the border between Israel and Egypt," the official MENA news agency reported on Friday, citing an unnamed military official.
"Egypt has demanded an urgent probe into the circumstances of the deaths and injuries of Egyptian forces’ members inside our borders."
State broadcaster Nile TV and MENA said on Thursday that three security officials were killed near the Israeli border but gave conflicting reports on the circumstances surrounding the deaths.
A MENA report on Thursday cited a military official as saying three policemen were accidentally killed near the border by Israeli helicopter fire aimed at fleeing militants who had launched multiple attacks in southern Israel earlier that day.
But on Friday the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper quoted a military official as saying the policemen were killed by gunmen trying to slip in from Israel.
The Israeli military said the assailants had come from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip through Sinai, where the Egyptian army was conducting a week-long security operation to root out some 1,200 to 1,300 militants believed to be roaming the area.
Reuters news agency reported that the Egyptian army said an army officer and two other security officials died on the Egyptian side of the border during an Israeli raid pursuing suspects of Thursday’s attacks.
The killings have sparked anger among the Egyptian public, especially after Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, said Thursday’s attacks in southern Israel reflect "the weakening of Egypt’s hold in the Sinai and the broadening of activities by terror elements".
Khaled Fouda, the Sinai governor, refuted Barak’s statements saying that Egypt has "increased security patrolling and checkpoints in Sinai".
About 200 Egyptians demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Friday, burning the Israeli flag and chanting, "Close the embassy! Expel the ambassador!"
The protest carried on throughout the night, with demonstrators bringing down the metal barriers surrounding the building and stomping on them, Al Jazeera correspondent Rawya Rageh reported from the scene.
Sami Enan, the Egyptian military chief of staff, visited Sinai on Friday to look into the deaths and speak to troops.
Essam Sharaf, the Egyptian prime minister, was to hold an emergency meeting later on Friday with members of the ruling military council and the intelligence community to assess the situation in Sinai, a cabinet spokesman said. It was unclear whether the meeting took place or not.
Egyptian politicians and officials including Sharaf condemned the securify officials’ deaths.
"Egyptian blood is too precious to be spilled without a response," Sharaf said on his Facebook page on Friday.
"I am currently discussing available options regarding the deaths of noble Egyptian troops."
Amr Moussa, a front-runner for Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections who stepped down earlier this year as Arab League chief, urged: "There must be a reaction."
"The blood of these conscripts is not cheap. All parties, including Israel, have to be warned against harming Egyptian soldiers," he said.
Saad al-Katatni, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement published on the daily shorouk’s website "the Zionists must realise that Egyptian blood now has a price".
Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979 but there have been calls to revise the agreement after a popular revolution ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.
The military, which took power after Mubarak’s overthrow, has said it would honour the treaty.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)