CAIRO: Gunmen on Sunday killed 16 guards in Egypt near the border with Israel before stealing two armoured vehicles and crossing into the Jewish state where one vehicle was destroyed by a helicopter.
An Egyptian medical official said gunmen in Bedouin attire drove up in two vehicles and opened fire on a checkpoint near the Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom in Hebrew) border crossing and opened fire.
The health ministry said 16 border guards were killed, while a security official said another seven were wounded.
The official MENA news agency said the gunmen were from inside the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
State television and MENA reported that Egypt was closing its Rafah frontier crossing with the Gaza Strip "until further notice".
President Mohamed Morsi called an emergency meeting with military and security officials after the attack, his spokesman Yasser Ali said.
Morsi, who only took the oath of office on June 30 to become the country's first freely elected leader and its first head of state since Hosni Mubarak's overthrow last year, said in a statement those behind the "cowardly" attack would pay it dearly.
"President Morsi says that this cowardly attack will not go without a response ... and that those who committed this crime will pay it dearly," said the statement, carried by the official MENA news agency.
In Israel, military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich told reporters gunmen hijacked two vehicles from an Egyptian outpost where they killed between 10 and 15 border guards before crossing the frontier.
One of the vehicles exploded by itself and the other was destroyed from the air, and the Israeli military was searching for any remaining gunmen, she said.
She did not know how many had been on board the vehicles and if any had survived.
Israeli public radio said the vehicle had been targeted by a helicopter and that three "terrorists" on board had been killed.
Leibovich confirmed that the incident had taken place in the Kerem Shalom area.
"A few of the people who manned the vehicles started running away. We targeted them," she said.
Residents of the nearby Israeli communities had been ordered to stay inside their homes until further notice, she added.
No Israeli civilians or soldiers were wounded in the incident.
In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed "the determined action of the military" and domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet "for ensuring the failure of a large attack on Israeli civilians".
Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement: "The way these attackers acted again shows the need for the Egyptian authorities to act firmly to re-establish security and fight terrorism in the Sinai."
Leibovich said it was too early to determine the gunmen's affiliation or what they were trying to do, but "one of the assumptions is they were trying to kidnap Israeli soldiers". (AFP)
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