At least 15 Egyptian policemen were killed and a tank was seized by Islamists at a Sinai police station close to the border with Israel on Sunday. The incident marks the deadliest twenty years along the border.
Israeli aircraft destroyed the vehicle used by the gunmen to storm the fortified border, and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi called to order his military council to deal with his first military crisis, according to a Reuters report.
According to Egyptian state television and Israeli military officials an Islamist militant group killed the Egyptian police.
Palestinian militants in Gaza have been previously pegged by Israeli officials for involvement in militant activity in volatile Sinai, where Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown in a revolt last year.
Now, Egypt and Israel will need to collaborate while sorting out their differences with Mursi, an Islamist, in control of Egypt since late June. Hamas will be suspect if it is proved that Palestinian gunmen were involved.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as quoted by Reuters, said: "Thanks to the determined action of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) and the Shin Bet (internal security agency), a big attack against Israeli civilians was prevented."
The Egyptian state news agency claims the assault was staged by Islamic extremists who from Gaza who crossed the border through along with more militants from two regions in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, according to Reuters.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said “determined Egyptian action" is necessary to "prevent terror in Sinai."
"Elements of a jihad organization drove SUVs into one of the checkpoints south of the Rafah border," Egyptian state television reported, noting 15 security forces personnel had been killed and at least 7 wounded. The number of militants involved in the attack was not determined.
"There was an exchange of fire with the attackers who seized an army tank and used it to make a second attack in Rafah," the Egyptian television report said.
However, Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said gunmen had stolen two vehicles. One blew up while the second was incinerated by Israeli aircraft.
As of now, authorities are not aware of any terrorists still in the area. There are some Israeli communities nearby, and residents have been asked to stay in their homes," Leibovich said.
An Egyptian security source reportedly closed the Rafah border to "indefinitely" due to the attack.
Gaza is governed by Hamas, a radical Palestinian Islamist movement considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., Israel and their allies. Hamas is openly hostile to the Jewish state and the tank and other weapons were presumptively seized to attack Israel.