CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s army rulers vowed yesterday to try those behind the violence that pushed Israel to evacuate its ambassador from Cairo, as they struggled to contain public fury against the Jewish state while fending off US criticism.
Washington, which has poured billions of dollars in military aid into Egypt since it made peace with Israel in 1979, urged Cairo to protect the mission after protesters hurled embassy documents from the windows of the building and removed and burned the Israeli flag.
Three people died and 1,049 were wounded in the clashes that began on Friday and raged on into the early hours of Saturday around the Cairo tower block housing the embassy, the Health Ministry said. Police and soldiers fired shots in the air and tear gas to disperse the crowd, which replied with stones.
Egypt’s army, under pressure to hand power back to civilians after taking over from toppled president Hosni Mubarak, must balance public calls for a more assertive policy towards Israel with maintaining ties that bring it cash and US military hardware.
“Egypt witnessed a harsh day that inflicted pain and worry on all Egyptians. It is clear that the behaviour of some threatens the Egyptian revolution,” Information Minister Osama Hassan Heikal said in a televised statement.
Egypt would transfer those in custody or “involved in inciting or participating in (Friday’s) events to the emergency state security court,” the minister said. Justice Minister Mohamed Abdel Aziz el-Guindy told state television the government had decided to apply emergency laws still in place “forcefully” and that trials would be swift.
Protesters burned tyres in the street and at least two police vehicles were set alight near the embassy. Many had come from a demonstration in central Cairo organised to push the army to end emergency law and speed up political reforms.
“Our dignity has been restored,” said Mohi Alaa, 24, a protester near the site of the overnight clashes. Bits of concrete and bullet casings were strewn over the street.
“We don’t want the Americans’ money,” he said, reflecting the greater readiness of many Egyptians to express resentment of Israel and the United States after decades of pragmatic official relations.
Some 500 protesters stayed after dawn and a few threw stones at police, who gradually pushed them away and secured the area around the embassy, located on the upper floors of a residential block overlooking the Nile.
It was the second big eruption of violence at the embassy since five Egyptian border guards were killed last month when Israel repelled cross-border raiders it said were Palestinians. Egypt then briefly threatened to withdraw its envoy to Israel.