JERUSALEM: Israel said Sunday it would investigate the shooting deaths of three soldiers at its border with Egypt, as it prepared to hold funerals for the slain trio.
On Saturday, three Israeli soldiers were killed by an “Egyptian policeman” who had entered the country and was shot dead in a rare cross-border incident, the army said.
Israel had sent Egypt a “clear message,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the opening of a cabinet meeting.
“We expect that the joint investigation will be exhaustive and thorough. This is part of the important security cooperation between us, which has benefitted both countries over the years,” he said.
Egypt’s army said a member of its security forces had crossed the border “chasing drug traffickers” before he was killed in an “exchange of fire which left three dead on the Israeli side.”
Two of the Israeli soldiers’ bodies were found at the border Saturday morning at a guard post close to the Harif military base, near the town of Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev desert, the army said.
They were identified as Lia Ben Nun, 19, and Ori Izhak Iluz, 20.
The discovery of their bodies triggered a manhunt during which the third soldier, 20-year-old Ohad Dahan, and the Egyptian identified by the army as a policeman, were killed.
A fourth Israeli soldier, a non-commissioned officer, was lightly wounded and evacuated to hospital, the military added.
The three soldiers will be buried Sunday afternoon in their hometowns, the army said.
On Sunday, Israeli media raised questions over the shootings, particularly how the assailant managed to cross the several-meters-high barrier running along the border.
Netanyahu on Saturday promised a “full investigation” into the deaths and senior government figures stressed the importance of cooperation with Egypt.
The army is conducting “a thorough investigation… in collaboration with the Egyptian armed forces,” Netanyahu’s chief of staff Herzl Halevi said.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant highlighted “the importance of the ties between the two countries” following a telephone call with his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Zaki.
Zaki meanwhile underlined “the joint coordination to take the necessary measures to avoid the repetition of incidents of this kind in the future,” according to a spokesman for the Egyptian army.
Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel following the Camp David accords of 1978, though there remains widespread popular opposition toward normalization in Egypt.
The border between the two countries is generally calm but is the scene of regular smuggling attempts.
In recent years, there have been exchanges of fire between smugglers and Israeli soldiers stationed along the border.
In 2014, two Israeli soldiers on patrol were wounded by unidentified men who fired an anti-tank weapon from the Sinai during an attempt to smuggle drugs.