Some 80 personnel and family members of Israel’s embassy in Cairo are safe after being removed in an emergency rescue operation.
During a riot outside the embassy Friday night, violent protesters broke down the eight-foot-high security wall surrounding the embassy compound and entered the building.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Egypt will implement an emergency law allowing detention without formal charges in order to crack down on the increasingly strident protests, fearful that they will spread to other embassies. Protestors also menaced the Saudi Arabian embassy Friday. "Egypt is undergoing a real crisis that is threatening its internal and external security," government spokesman Osama Heikal said in a statement. "What happened has damaged Egypt’s image and international position and and it cannot be condoned."
Once the riots turned violent, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, embassy personnel, their families and Israelis staying at the embassy were evacuated to Cairo’s airport and returned to Israel on a special Israel Air Force flight.
Six employees stranded in the building were later removed by an Egyptian commando unit during a special rescue operation in which the men reportedly dressed in Arab kaffiyeh headdresses.
More than 1,000 Egyptians demonstrated at the embassy, many after an Egyptian Facebook group called on protesters to gather at the embassy and "urinate on the wall," Ynet reported.
During the demonstration, protesters tore down the Israeli flag from the high-rise building’s roof for the second time in a month. Outnumbered security forces largely did not interfere.
In a televised address on Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Middle East is "now undergoing a political earthquake of historic proportions."
He said Israel would work with Egypt to return its ambassador to Cairo. "We will continue to keep the peace with Egypt. This is in the common interest of both countries. We will work toward preventing a further deterioration in our relationship with Turkey. We did not choose this sequence of events. To the extent that the matter depends upon us, we shall act to lower tensions and do everything possible to restore relations," he said.
Netanyahu praised the United States for intervening with Egypt in order to rescue the Israelis. "I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, ‘I will do everything I can.’ And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude," Netanyahu said.
A former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Eli Shaked, likened the situation there today to Iran in 1979, when a revolution desposed the shah and swept in a fundamentalist government. "Egypt is not moving toward democracy but toward Islamicization," Shaked told The Times.