Egyptian Helicopter Opens Fire on Boats from Gaza, Sinking One

An Egyptian army helicopter fired Sunday on three Arab fishing boats from the Gaza Strip, sinking one of them, an Israeli military spokesman announce.

There were no fatalities, but several of the fishermen were wounded. They were rescued by another boat. Israeli police detained one of the uninjured men for sailing into Egyptian territorial waters without permission.

The Egyptians claimed they were interdicting a drug smuggling operation, and the Israeli authorities appear to have accepted their explanation.

Military sources played down the incident. They denied it had any far-reaching political implications.

The fishing boats departed from the Shati refugee camp in Gaza and were intercepted in Egyptian waters off Rafah. The Egyptians said they had intelligence reports that a boat from Turkey was smuggling drugs and planned to hand them over to Arab fishermen from Gaza.

They said the helicopter opened fire when one of the boats tried to escape. The Egyptians also said a vessel was seized and taken to an Egyptian port, where 500 tons of hashish was discovered aboard.

The helicopter incident occurred shortly before Israel’s new ambassador to Egypt, Professor Shimon Shamir, presented his credentials to President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Several new ambassadors, including some from Arab countries, presented their credentials at the same time.

Shamir said that he had a 90-minute interview with Mubarak afterward. He knows the Egyptian president from his previous tour of duty in Cairo as head of Israel’s cultural mission.

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