Cairo Israel Embassy – AP – Sept. 10, 2011
Egyptians clean by the Israeli embassy Cairo, Sept. 10, 2011. Photo by AP
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the attack on Israel's embassy in Cairo over the weekend was in effect an assault on "the axis of peace" with Egypt, adding that those who tore down the flag outside the building "oppose peace".

In an address to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu praised the moderate elements in Egypt who were keen on advancing and maintaining peaceful relations with Israel.

Netanyahu told the ministers that Israel and Egypt are coordinating the return of Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon, who was flown out with his family following the attack.

The prime minister emphasized to ministers the importance of "maintaining Israeli representation in Cairo," adding that the fact that the embassy was attacked was significant in itself.

The Israeli embassy in Cairo is "the axis of our peace," said Netanyahu. "It is an axis to which there are objectors, who are appealing not against policy, but against Israel."

On Friday afternoon, thousands of Egyptians stormed the embassy, climbing over a security wall, breaking windows, bursting inside, lighting fires, spray painting anti-Israeli slogans and looting the mission's offices on the building's higher stories.

Only early Saturday, could Egyptian commandos rescue six Israeli security guards, who for hours had been held up inside a safe room. The ambassador and other staff had already gone home for the Sabbath.

Three Egyptian civilians were killed and a total of 1,049 injured, including 46 police and military soldiers, during the attack on the embassy, Egypt's Health Ministry said, as Egyptian forces confronted the mob.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor on Sunday called the storming of the embassy an assault on 32 years of peaceful Israeli-Egyptian relations.

The incident was not only a physical attack on a sovereign mission, but one "on the Israeli-Egyptian peace, and on the stability in the region," said Merido, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party who holds the intelligence and atomic energy portfolio.

Both Israel and Egypt have a "mutual interest" to restore normal ties as soon as possible, said Meridor, but told Israel Radio that "Egypt must take some steps to promise us that it can guarantee the safety of our diplomats."

Asked if active negotiations with Palestinian representatives would have helped moderate anti-Israeli sentiment in Egypt, the minister replied that peace talks with the Palestinians were an Israeli interest too.

"But what is happening in the Middle East is much bigger than the Israeli-Palestinian issue," he said.

Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai praised the Egyptian commandos who rescued the Israeli security personnel."From my point of view, the Egyptian commandos solved the situation and did this very well," Vilnai told Israel Army Radio.

"The situation was very tense and could have easily become bloody, because our people would have had no option but to shoot," he said. He also praised the Israeli guards, saying they showed "restraint" and "professionalism."

Netanyahu too praised the Egyptian rescue operation, which came after he had asked U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene.

"The Middle East is undergoing a historical earthquake and we have to operate calmly, responsibly," Netanyahu told a press conference on Saturday.

"Israel will continue to adhere to the peace treaty with Egypt. We are working together with the Egyptian government to quickly return our ambassador to Cairo," he said.

Egyptian Information Minister Osama Heikal promised extra measures to protect the embassy compound, using all articles available under the emergency law.

Some 38 people have been held in connection with the attack on the building, according to state-run daily al-Ahram.

Netanyahu also specifically thanked Obama during his statement on Saturday, saying the U.S. had helped rescue the diplomats. "He said he would do everything in his power, and he has done that. We owe him a special thank you," the Israeli premier said.