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Palestinian attack tests Israel-Egypt treaty

Israel's landmark 1979 peace treaty with Egypt is being tested by a cross-border attack blamed on Palestinian militants. Israel made a rare apology Saturday for the deaths of three Egyptian soldiers after Cairo threatened to withdraw its ambassador.

The attack on Thursday set off a new cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Israeli airstrikes have killed 12 Palestinians, including two children, since Thursday, and Israeli leaders have made it clear that they will not put up with mounting violence from Gaza.

The airstrikes have been answered by Palestinians pelting southern Israel with at least 80 rockets and mortar shells since Friday. An Israeli was killed Saturday in the city of Beersheba, about 25 miles from Gaza.

"Israel is sorry for the deaths of the Egyptian policemen during the attack on the Israel-Egypt border," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said after Egypt threatened to withdraw its ambassador to protest the deaths of its soldiers.

The Egyptian government said late Saturday that Israel's apology was welcome, but not enough. Still, it reaffirmed Egypt's commitment to the peace.

Israel's apology was a clear move to try to contain the damage to already shaky relations with Egypt. Egypt's threat to take diplomatic action put Israel in the uncomfortable position of having to apologize for violence that was triggered after its borders were breached and its people attacked and killed.

Israeli officials promised to investigate the deaths of the Egyptians and insisted the peace treaty was stable.

"No one had any intention to harm Egyptian security personnel," Amos Gilled, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official who works closely with Egypt, told Israel Radio.

But even before the clashes on Thursday, the February ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in a popular revolt had unleashed an outpouring of anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt and criticism of the peace treaty.