- Netanyahu thanks Egyptian field marshal for assistance with deal for Shalit's return
- In August incident, 5 Egyptian border guards were killed by Israeli troops
- Relations between the two nations have been strained in recent months
Following an investigation, Israel apologized to Egypt this week over an August incident in which five Egyptian border guards were killed, the Israeli Ministry of Defense said.
The apology, issued Tuesday, was overshadowed by news that a deal had been reached for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by the Palestinian group Hamas more than five years ago. However, it was largely seen as an olive branch to the transitional Egyptian government, as relations between Israel and Egypt have become strained in recent months.
On August 18, militants crossed into Israel from Egyptian territory to attack Israeli civilian targets. Eight Israeli citizens were killed in the attacks, which Israel has said were the work of a jihadist group based in Gaza. Responding to the attacks, Israeli troops killed five Egyptian border guards while in pursuit of the militants.
The investigation into the incident was conducted by senior Israel Defense Forces officials and Egyptian army officials, the Ministry of Defense said. For security reasons, the ministry said, the results of the probe remain sealed.
Israel issued a rare statement of regret three days after the incident, after Egypt suggested it was recalling its ambassador in protest.
The overture, however, was deemed insufficient by many in Egypt and days later, angry protesters ransacked the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. The entire staff was hastily withdrawn after U.S. President Barack Obama personally intervened with the Egyptians to secure their safe passage, but the sequence of events dealt a blow to Israeli-Egyptian relations.
In the wake of the embassy incident, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would stick to its 1979 peace agreement with Egypt.
In the Tuesday statement, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the August militant attack was "despicable" and "meant to murder as many Israeli citizens as possible and destroy the peaceful relations that are strategically important between Israel and Egypt," the Tuesday statement said.
But "based on the findings of the investigation, the defense minister decided to express his apology to Egypt over the death of every Egyptian policeman who was killed while on duty as a result of Israeli fire."
Netanyahu, meanwhile, spoke Thursday with the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi and thanked him for the "central role" Egypt played in the agreement for Shalit's return, the prime minister's office said.
"Your assistance warms the cockles of the heart of all Israeli citizens," Netanyahu told Tantawi.