EGYPTIAN soldiers and military vehicles have massed near the Israeli embassy in Cairo following violent protests in front of the Jewish state’s mission that left more than 200 people injured.
One demonstrator died of a heart attack during the violence overnight, which erupted not far from Tahrir Square, the epicentre of an uprising that ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.
US President Barack Obama called on Egypt to protect Israel’s embassy, as the government in Cairo called an emergency meeting and the Jewish state’s ambassador was reportedly at the airport in the capital awaiting a flight home.
Last night, thousands of pro-reform protesters had massed in Tahrir Square to demand reforms and an end to military trials of civilians.
After listening to the weekly Muslim prayer, which told Egyptians it was shameful to “forget their revolution,” about 1000 people left the square and marched to the Israeli embassy several kilometres away.
Chanting “Lift your head high, you are an Egyptian,” they demolished about half of the security wall outside the mission with sledge-hammers and a hefty metal bar, as military police looked on.
The wall, about two metres high, consists of prefabricated cement slabs recently installed around the building that houses the embassy overlooking a bridge in Cairo.
Motorists on the bridge adjacent honked horns in support as some protesters chanted: “To Jerusalem we will march, one million martyrs!”
A protester clambered up the embassy building and removed the flag, throwing it down to the rapturous crowd below.
But protesters later scuffled with military police when they tried to force their way down a side street near the building that had been cordoned off.
Demonstrators set fire to two police trucks and damaged four other security vehicles around the embassy building, and pelted anti-riot police with stones, an AFP journalist witnessed.
They grabbed several helmets and shields from police and at least one teargas gun, while others invaded and damaged a small police station in the neighbourhood. Gunfire was later heard in the area.
The violence left 235 injured, said a health ministry statement cited by state television, with one person having died of a heart attack.
Demonstrators broke into the Israeli embassy overnight, throwing thousands of pages of documents marked “confidential” into the streets, an AFP journalist reported from the scene.
The documents, some of which were written in Arabic, carried Israeli diplomatic stamps and appeared to be correspondence between Israeli officials and their Egyptian counterparts.
Mr Obama expressed his concern as he spoke by telephone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said in a statement.
“The president expressed his great concern about the situation at the embassy, and the security of the Israelis serving there,” it said.
Relations between Egypt and Israel have been particularly tense since August 18, when Israeli troops killed five Egyptian policemen as they chased militants along the border. That incident followed a series of Negev desert ambushes that killed eight Israelis.
At the time, outraged Egyptians staged huge protests outside the embassy and called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. Egypt has asked Israel for an official apology and demanded a probe into the deaths.
At the rally in Cairo, protesters chanted slogans against the military ruler and current de facto head of state Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who is set to take the witness stand tomorrow when the trial of Mr Mubarak resumes.
Protesters also gathered outside the interior ministry to protest earlier clashes with police in which nearly 80 people were injured and dozens of cars torched on Tuesday night.
The latest protest was called by mostly secular and leftist activists, and was boycotted by the influential Muslim Brotherhood movement and other Islamist groups.
Mohsen Rady, a senior Brotherhood member, told state television his movement believed Egyptians were weary of protests.
“People have grown bored of these demonstrations,” he said.
Secular activists are concerned the military’s current timetable for parliamentary elections this autumn will play into the hands of the Brotherhood by denying new political movements the time to organise.
The activists also want an end to the military trials of civilians.