* Israel sees 'wake-up call' for Egypt on security
* Bloodshed an early diplomatic test for Egypt's Mursi
* Gaza border crossing into Egypt closed indefinitely
By Yusri Mohamed
RAFAH, Egypt, Aug 6 Egypt branded Islamist
gunmen who killed 16 police near the Israeli border as
"infidels" and promised on Monday to launch a crackdown
following the massacre that has strained Cairo's ties with both
Israel and Palestinians.
An Egyptian official said insurgents crossed into Egypt from
the Gaza Strip before attacking the border station on Sunday.
They then stole two vehicles and headed to nearby Israel, where
they were eventually killed by Israeli fire.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday up to
eight assailants were killed in the attack, adding he hoped the
incident would serve as a "wake-up call" to Egypt, accused by
Israel of having lost control of the desert Sinai peninsula.
The bloodshed represented an early diplomatic test for
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist who took office at
the end of June after staunch U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was
overthrown last year in a popular uprising.
Mursi visited the border area on Monday, accompanied by the
head of Egypt's military, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. The
army sent in reinforcements and stepped up checkpoints.
Mubarak cooperated closely with Israel on security and
suppressed Islamist movements such as Mursi's Muslim
Brotherhood, which rejects violence to achieve its goals but
whose leaders often voiced hostility towards the Jewish state.
Egypt's military, which still holds many levers of power,
called the attackers "infidels" and said it had been patient
until now in the face of instability in Sinai.
"But there is a red line and passing it is not acceptable.
Egyptians will not wait for long to see a reaction to this
event," it said in a statement on its Facebook page.
State news agency MENA cited a military official as saying a
military funeral would be held in Cairo on Tuesday to honour
those who died during the attack.
A largely demilitarised Sinai is the keystone of the
historic 1979 peace deal between Egypt and Israel.
But for the past year there has been growing lawlessness in
the vast desert expanse, as Bedouin bandits, extremists and
Palestinian militants from next-door Gaza fill the vacuum,
tearing at already frayed relations between Egypt and Israel.
SEALING THE BORDER
Mursi has promised to honour the 1979 peace treaty with
Israel and has done little to suggest a major shift in ties. He
has also reached out to Hamas, the Islamist rulers of the Gaza
Strip that borders Egypt and Israel, and Sunday's killings put
an instant strain on their relations.
The Muslim Brotherhood said on its website the attack "can
be attributed to Mossad," the Israeli intelligence agency, and
was an attempt to thwart Mursi. It said Mossad was trying to
abort the Egyptian uprising and it was "imperative to review
clauses" of the agreement between Egypt and Israel.
Mursi officially left the group and his position as head of
its Freedom and Justice Party when he took office.
Israel dismissed allegations of involvement in the attack.
"Even the person who says this when he looks at himself in
the mirror does not believe the nonsense he is uttering,"
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department voiced scepticism
Mossad might have been behind the attack and urged Egypt to
improve security in Sinai.
Asked if it was conceivable the Israeli intelligence service
launched the attack, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell
told reporters that "doesn't sound right to me."
Dozens of demonstrators chanting "leave, leave" gathered in
front of the residence of the Israeli ambassador in Cairo on
Monday night to demand he be expelled, the state newspaper
Egypt closed its border crossing into Gaza "indefinitely",
cutting off the sole exit route for most Palestinians at the
height of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Hamas, which condemned the killings of the Egyptians, also
sealed a warren of smuggling tunnels after Cairo said the gunmen
had used these underground links to reach Egypt. Hamas said it
was working with Egypt to try to identify those behind the
"No Palestinian could take part in such an ugly crime and in
the killing of our beloved Egyptian army men in such a horrible
manner," said Hamas's Gazan government spokesman Taher al-Nono.
Egyptian state television on Monday cited a medical source
as saying six corpses that had arrived at the morgue of Arish
hospital in Sinai may be the bodies of some of the assailants.
It did not add further details.
Deeply hostile to Israel, Hamas is nonetheless considered
overly moderate by many Islamists, who condemn Egypt's 1979
peace accord and seek constant war with the Jewish state.
Last August, eight Israelis were killed in a cross-border
Sinai attack blamed on Palestinian militants from Gaza. In June,
an Israeli worker was killed in another frontier incident.
No one claimed immediate responsibility for Sunday's attack.
"I think it is clear that Israel and Egypt have a common
interest in keeping their border quiet," Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu said, sending his condolences to Egypt.
Israel urged its citizens last week to leave the Sinai,
citing the threat of a possible assault. On Sunday morning, an
Israeli air strike killed a Palestinian gunman from a radical
Islamist group in southern Gaza near the Egyptian border.
Hours later, the group of gunmen ambushed the border police
- who had gathered to break the Ramadan fast after sunset - and
opened fire, killing 16 and wounding at least seven. Egypt's
army said 35 militants took part in the assault, and mortar
bombs fired from Gaza landed in the area during the attack.
Some of the gunmen then sped off in the two stolen vehicles,
one of which exploded at the fence, while the second, an
armoured personnel carrier, travelled some 2.5-km (2 miles) into
Israel before it was disabled by an Israeli air force missile.
"A very great disaster was prevented here," said the chief
of the Israeli armed forces, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz,
adding it was "a very complicated attack by terrorists linked
between the Sinai and Gaza".