JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel is to apologize to Cairo over the deaths of six Egyptian policeman, according to an announcement which coincided with news of an Egyptian-brokered deal for the release of Gilad Shalit.
The apology was expected to be formally extended on Wednesday.
In a statement released on Tuesday evening Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel and Egypt had concluded a joint inquiry into the deaths of six Egyptians killed by Israeli fire on August 18.
The deaths, which raised tensions between Israel and Cairo, occurred as Israeli troops chased a number of gunmen responsible for carrying out a series of shooting attacks which killed eight Israelis.
In his statement, Barak said Israel was willing to issue an apology over the deaths.
“Based on the findings of the investigation, Barak decided to apologize to the Egyptians over the death of every Egyptian policeman in the line of duty as the result of Israeli fire,” it said.
The defense ministry announcement came at exactly the same time as news broke over the landmark deal to secure Shalit’s release in exchange for freeing 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
Both Israel and Hamas praised Egypt for its efforts to mediate the deal, which came more than five years after Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid by Gaza-based militants.
The Egyptian state news agency MENA said Egyptian intelligence chief Murad Muwafi was a key player in helping seal the deal between Israel and Hamas.
“General Murad Muwafi succeeded in concluding the deal,” the agency said. “His discussions with the Israeli side were done over the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Egypt’s cabinet also praised the deal in a posting on its Facebook page.
“Egypt succeeded in realizing a historic deal on the exchange of prisoners between Hamas and Israel,” the post said.
Ties between Egypt and Israel, which have been bound by a peace treaty since 1979, have entered a period of turbulence since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak by a popular uprising in February.
Relations worsened after Egyptian protesters stormed Israel’s embassy in Cairo in September, prompting an evacuation of staff.