Cairo: President Mohammad Mursi did not attend a military funeral held on Tuesday for 16 soldiers killed in an attack in Egypt’s Sinai.
Attending the solemn funeral starting from an army mosque in eastern Cairo were Defence Minister Field Marshal Hussain Tantawi, former Prime Minister Kamal Al Ganzouri and senior army commanders. There was no official explanation for Mursi’s no-showing despite earlier reports by state media of his participation.
Hundreds of ordinary Egyptians attended the funeral. Some mourners chanted angry slogans against Mursi and his group, the Muslim Brotherhood, over their recent rapprochmeent with the Palestinian movement Hamas who is ruling the Gaza Strip.
Gunmen in Bedouin costumes attacked an army outpost in the border Rafah town near the Gaza Strip on Sunday at sunset when troopers were ending their fast, leaving 16 Egyptian soldiers dead and seven injured.
Bodies of the slain soldiers were put inside coffins draped in the national flag and carried by military pallbearers at the army’s memorial in Nasr City in eastern Cairo.
Morsi, who visited Sinai on Monday, vowed a harsh response to the attack, which state media blamed on Muslim militants.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups accused Israel’s spy agency Mossad of involvement in the attack, the worst against the Egyptian army in decades. Israel has vehemently denied the accusation.
Egypt moved to bolster security in the Sinai and the Muslim Brotherhood called for a review of military limits in the area under the country’s peace agreement with Israel, after its 16 soldiers were killed.
The Brotherhood said the August 5 attack, which posed one of the most serious tests for President Mursi since taking office, was aimed at driving a wedge between Egypt and the Hamas government in Gaza while also discrediting the newly appointed government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil – the first Cabinet to be named after Mursi assumed office in June.
The bloodshed compounds a growing list of security challenges in the country. It also placed Mursi, who was nominated by the Brotherhood for the presidency, in the difficult position of dealing with two of the thorniest issues in Egyptian foreign policy - the push for closer ties with Hamas and relations with Israel.
The attack “draws our attention to the fact that our forces in the Sinai lack the personnel and the equipment to protect the region or guard our borders, which makes it imperative to review the terms of our accords with Israel,” the Brotherhood said in a statement posted today on the website of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.
The 1978 peace accord between Egypt and Israel limits the number of troops Egypt can deploy in the peninsula. Mursi, who has repeatedly said that Egypt will honor its international agreements, ordered the military to take “complete control” of the region and send in helicopter gunships.
Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., Israel and the European Union, denied any involvement and condemned the attack. No group has claimed responsibility.
The military blamed the attack on “enemies of the state,” and said the assailants may have been supported by “elements” in Gaza who shelled the border crossing of Karam Abu Salem at the same time. The attack came after Mursi met with senior Hamas officials in Cairo last month to discuss easing border controls with the Palestinian territory.
The Brotherhood, which said in its statement that Israel had issued instructions to its citizens days before to leave the Sinai, said the incident “may well be the work of Israel’s Mossad.”
The army was patrolling the area by land, sea and air today, the independent Al Shorouk newspaper said. Authorities were also demolishing smuggling tunnels used to ferry supplies to Gaza, it reported.
– With inputs from Bloomberg