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After deadly incident in Sinai

Egyptians cheer burning of Israeli flag

Published Aug 25, 2011 9:51 PM

Ahmed el-Shahat became an instant hero, known on Twitter as #Flagman, when in the early hours of Aug. 21 he scaled the walls of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, removed its flag and replaced it with an Egyptian flag.

A multinational crowd, including many youth and a significant number of Jewish men and women, gathered before the Israeli Consulate in New York to protest the recent attacks on the Gaza border and in Gaza. They chanted, “Stop the bombing! Free Palestine!” and “Not another penny, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”

A huge crowd that had been demonstrating at the embassy then burned the Israeli flag that Shahat had captured.

It was another sign that the people of Egypt are furious at the killing of three Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai. Israel has not admitted officially that it killed the Egyptians, but has said that their deaths were an accident that happened during Israel’s aerial pursuit of unidentified militants who had earlier carried out several attacks on soldiers in southern Israel, killing at least eight.

Richard Lightbown, writing for the Palestine Chronicle, said of the attacks inside Israel: “A large variety of weaponry is reported to have been used in the attacks including mortar fire, an anti-tank missile and an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] device that was fired at a pursuing helicopter. Explosives were laid alongside the road. In a further shooting attack in the same area later that afternoon two Israeli soldiers were wounded and three gunmen died. The sophistication and success of this attack demonstrate an unusual level of competence.”

Israel blamed Palestinians coming from Gaza for the attack, but Hamas, the elected authority there, categorically denied that Gaza had anything to do with it. The attack occurred near Israel’s border with Sinai some 150 miles south of Gaza.

The anger of the Egyptian people had been simmering for a long time before this incident brought it to the boil. Like most of the Arab world, they have long sympathized with the Palestinian struggle. The Camp David Accords, signed by Hosni Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar El Sadat of Egypt and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and brokered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, had returned the Sinai desert to Egypt in 1979, but with qualifications. Israel, which had seized the Sinai from Egypt in 1967, withdrew its troops, but Egypt was required to police the area in coordination with Israel.

In recent years, since Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007, the U.S.-supported Mubarak regime of Egypt had helped Israel keep the Palestinians in Gaza sealed off from the world. But this year’s uprising in Egypt that brought down Mubarak also resulted in an easing of the siege of Gaza. Obviously, Israel didn’t like that.

The U.S. has been maneuvering behind the scenes to keep this latest incident from igniting the Egyptian masses once again. Before the Israeli aerial attack that killed the Egyptian soldiers, it looked as though the old pattern of the Egyptian military collaborating with both Israel and the U.S. had been restored. But since the Egyptian masses took to the streets again to protest Israel’s violation of Egypt’s airspace and territory, the Egyptian cabinet has been meeting in crisis mode.

Despite the historic rising of the masses in Egypt that toppled Mubarak, the ruling cabinet is still dominated by the same military. But, as was seen during the Tahrir Square demonstrations, the loyalty of the rank and file of the army if called out to repress the people is questionable. During the huge demonstration at the Israeli Embassy, “Egyptian soldiers took up positions in armored cars nearby, but kept their distance in an apparent attempt to avoid confrontations.” (New York Times, Aug. 22)