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Israeli soldiers secure a gate leading to a military base following a deadly shootout in southern Israel. AP

3 Israeli soldiers and 1 Egyptian killed shooting near shared border

An Israeli army statement identified the assailant as an Egyptian policeman.

THREE ISRAELI SOLDIERS and a member of Egypt’s security forces were killed today in a rare exchange of fire near the border between the two countries, official sources from both sides said.

The Israeli army said an Egyptian assailant shot dead two soldiers “in the early morning… while they secured a military post at the Egyptian border”, triggering a manhunt in which a third soldier was killed.

An army statement identified the assailant as an Egyptian policeman, saying he was killed by Israeli troops after having been found “in Israeli territory”.

“An investigation is conducted in full cooperation with the Egyptian army,” the statement added.

A fourth soldier, a non-commissioned officer, was lightly wounded and evacuated to hospital, the Israeli army added.

An Egyptian army spokesman said “a member of the security forces… chased drug smugglers. During the chase, the security agent crossed the security fence (border)” and a fire exchange ensued.

Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel following the Camp David accords of 1978, though relations were not fully normalised. Their shared border is largely peaceful, despite an insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and occasional exchanges of fire between drug smugglers and Israeli troops.

The Israel army had initially declined to confirm media reports of the first two deaths, while families were notified.

The two soldiers, a man and a woman, were “killed by live fire adjacent to the border”, it said in a statement. The army later identified the woman as Lia Ben Nun (19).

A barrier runs along the Israel-Egypt border, and an army spokesman said Israel was looking into how it was breached.

Hours before the deadly shooting, Israeli soldiers had foiled an attempted drug smuggling at the border, seizing contraband goods estimated at 1.5 million shekels (€372,731), a spokesman said.

There have been several previous incidents along Israel’s border with Egypt.

In 2011, assailants who came from Sinai killed eight Israelis in a triple ambush north of Eilat. Pursuing Israeli forces killed seven attackers and five Egyptian police.

In 2012, an Israeli soldier and three militants who infiltrated from Sinai were killed in a clash along the border.

In 2014, two Israeli soldiers on patrol were wounded by unidentified men who fired an anti-tank weapon from the Sinai during an attempted drug-smuggling, according to the Israeli military.

And in 2015, rockets fired from Sinai hit southern Israel without causing any casualties. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility.