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Israeli-egyptian Relations Shaken by Infiltration That Left Four Dead

Israel has lodged a strong protest with Egypt over a bloody infiltration incident Sunday morning that left three Israeli soldiers and a civilian bus driver dead.

Twenty-three people were wounded in the shooting spree, perpetrated by a lone gunman on a border road about 12 miles northwest of Eilat.

The gunman, wearing the uniform of Egyptian border police, was wounded by Israeli return fire but managed to retreat across the Egyptian border, where he was immediately taken into custody.

Egyptian authorities apologized and promised the assailant would be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

The Israel Defense Force identified two of the dead soldiers as Regiment Sgt. Maj. Avi Serlin and Chief Sgt. Chaim Ashkenazi. The third dead soldier was not immediately identified.

The slain civilian was identified as Eliezer Zakoura, an Egged bus driver from Eilat.

The incident occurred on the Rafah-Eilat road near Ein Netafim. The road parallels the Egyptian border.

According to the IDF commander in the region, the Egyptian gunman crossed the border where it is delineated by stone markers and lay in wait some 300 yards inside Israel, along the isolated but well-trafficked road.

Two buses and two military vehicles were traveling separately, several minutes apart. The dead were all the drivers of their respective vehicles, indicating that the infiltrator took deliberate aim as each vehicle came into view.

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The first that approached was a light military transport truck with only the driver aboard. He was wounded but managed to drive on until he met an army patrol, which he alerted to the danger.

Next to pass the ambush was an IDF Peugeot, whose driver was fatally wounded. He drove several hundred yards before the vehicle stopped, its driver already dead.

The third vehicle was an army bus, empty except for the driver, who was on his way to the Ovdat air force base to pick up passengers. The driver stopped, got out and was shot dead.

Another military vehicle heading for Eilat slowed down at the sight of trucks and buses stopped on the side of the road. Thinking there might have been an accident, the driver slowed down and was shot to death.

Finally, an Egged bus came along carrying civilian employees of the Ovdat base to work accompanied by IDF armed guards. The attacker signaled the bus to stop and opened fire as its slowed down.

An armed guard wounded by the volley returned the fire, hitting the Egyptian, who at that point fled back across the border.

Six of the wounded remained hospitalized Sunday night. The others were treated and sent home.

Foreign Minister David Levy summoned the Egyptian ambassador, Mohammed Basiouny, to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Sunday night to register a formal complaint over the incident.

Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel would hold Egypt responsible for the attack.

Credit for the shooting was claimed by the Islamic Jihad, a fundamentalist group active in the intifada.

The incident was the most serious between Israel and Egypt since Feb. 4, when masked terrorists opened fire on a tourist bus near the Suez Canal port of Ismailia, killing nine Israelis and two Egyptians.

Another incident occurred on Oct. 5, 1985, when an Egyptian border policeman killed seven Israeli tourists on the beach at Ras Burka in Sinai, about 25 miles south of Eilat. Three of the victims were children. The assailant subsequently hanged himself in an Egyptian prison.

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