Posted on Fri, Sep. 09, 2011
last updated: March 15, 2013 11:57:55 AM
CAIRO — Dozens of protesters stormed the building housing the Israeli embassy here Friday, breaking down a security wall and seizing documents from a storage area in the worst anti-Israeli violence since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from office seven months ago.
The protesters failed to gain entry to the embassy offices themselves, which are on the top floor of a 22-story residential building in Giza, across the Nile River from downtown Cairo. But they ransacked files they found on the building's 19th floor, throwing Hebrew-language documents from the windows and posting others on Facebook and Twitter. One document appeared to be a photocopy of an identification card for Israel's former ambassador, Shalom Cohen.
No Egyptian police or security forces were guarding the embassy when the demonstrators broke through metal gates and dashed up the stairs to the embassy floors in an odd break with what is traditionally heavy security. Army troops arrived to confront the demonstrators after about an hour. There was no explanation for the delay.
Israel recalled its current ambassador, Yitzhak Levanon, for consultations. He was reported at the airport in Cairo early Saturday morning.
In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama had called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express "his great concern about the situation at the embassy, and the security of the Israelis serving there."
The White House said Obama "called on the government of Egypt to honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli embassy."
There was no indication that Obama had talked to Egyptian officials.
As many as 235 people were injured when army forces arrived to quell the protest, according to the Egyptian health ministry. One protester died of a heart attack at the hospital, the ministry said.
Four people were arrested by the military, local media reported.
The Israeli embassy has been a frequent rallying point for demonstrations since the end of the Mubarak regime, which was often accused by its opponents of defending Israeli interests. In August, angry crowds demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador after Israeli troops killed five Egyptian police officers when they opened fire on Palestinian gunmen who had crossed into Israel from Egypt.
Friday's protest began when dozens of demonstrators arrived at the embassy, apparently with the intention of tearing down a concrete security wall that Egyptian authorities had erected in the past month to protect the building. Protesters carrying hammers attacked the wall, which fell about 10 p.m.
The protesters then dismantled the metal entryway into the building and stormed through another metal gate that blocked the stairway before racing up the stairs to the building's upper floors.
"Tear down the wall," the demonstrators shouted. "Out with the ambassador."
Opposition political groups, which had staged a protest in Tahrir Square earlier in the day, quickly distanced themselves from the embassy protest.
A statement by the April 6 Movement, which was at the forefront of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations, referred to the building as the "embassy of the enemy," but said none of its members had participated.
(Sabry is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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