CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt has walled off Israel’s embassy in Cairo after tensions between the two countries sparked a series of angry protests that reached a climax last month when a demonstrator scaled the building and removed the Israeli flag.
As work began on the wall a few days ago, many Egyptians gathered nearby to show their displeasure. Some sprayed “The people want the fall of the wall” onto its smooth concrete.
Later on Monday, state TV showed footage of construction workers painting the wall in the colors of the Egyptian flag and writing on it “Egypt at all times”.
Egyptian officials said the mainly concrete barrier, roughly 2 1/2 metres (8 feet) high, was to protect other residents of the high-rise embassy building, not the Israeli mission.
“The goal ... is to protect the lower floors of the building and prevent tensions between protesters and residents,” daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm quoted local governor Ali Abdel-Rahman as saying.
Egypt’s relations with Israel have cooled since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, a staunch U.S. ally, in a popular uprising in February.
A diplomatic row broke out last month when five Egyptian security personnel were shot dead on the border as Israeli troops repelled militants who killed eight Israelis.
Egypt threatened briefly to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv, said the deaths of the Egyptians breached its 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state and demanded a joint inquiry.
That was not enough for some Egyptians.
Thousands protested angrily for days outside the embassy to demand a sterner response from their government, in scenes that would never have been allowed during the Mubarak era when political demonstrations were usually crushed by riot police.
The protester who clambered up the high-rise embassy building was rewarded by an Egyptian provincial governor with a job, a new home and a commemorative shield, newspapers reported.
The governor for Giza, where the embassy sits close to the banks of the Nile, denied the wall was designed to protect the embassy, a claim met with disbelief by some observers.
“It is obvious that the reason behind building the wall is to prevent protesters in the future from reaching the embassy and to protect it,” said political analyst Mustapha al-Sayyid.
“Why would we protect a state that is killing our people? This is wrong, unfair and irritating,” one man told Egyptian radio during a night live program on Sunday evening.
(Reporting by Yasmine Saleh, Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Mark Heinrich)