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News

Funeral held for slain Egyptian soldiers

A funeral has taken place for 16 members of Egypt's security forces killed on Sunday, in an attack on the Sinai Peninsula. A notable absentee was the country's president Mohammad Morsi.

Aired on live television, the funeral began at an army mosque in Nasr City, in eastern Cairo, with the bodies of the slain soldiers draped in the national flag.

State media reported that Morsi would attend the funeral, which was led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's defence minister and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Other senior government officials and generals joined Tantawi in a brief procession that followed the caskets, after prayers.

The state-run newspaper Al Ahram reported online that a presidential spokesman was to brief the press on Morsi's decision not to attend.

The president announced three days of official mourning following the attack, which took place around sunset on Sunday near the Egyptian border town of Rafah. Troops were having their traditional meal after their daily fast during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month.

"Every Egyptian feels this attack was directed against them. They all want vengeance, and there must be blood for blood," a presenter said during the broadcast.

Following the attack, Egypt shut its Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip, which is the territory's only access to the outside world. Morsi later declared that his country's troops would retake control of the Sinai Peninsula.

The Israeli army says that a crossing in Kerem Shalom, at the border of Israel, Egypt and Gaza, was reopened on Tuesday morning.

Attack blame

The attack has been blamed on Islamist extremists by state television in Egypt and Israeli authorities.

However the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip, has denied that Palestinian militants were responsible.

The country's Muslim Brotherhood has claimed that the Israeli intelligence service Mossad may be behind the attack.

In a statement, the group said: "This crime can be attributed to the Mossad, which has been seeking to abort the (Egyptian) revolution since it started."

This has been rejected as "ridiculous" by Israel. "This is not even an accusation. This is someone on automatic pilot just sending out their generic blasting of Israel," said a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor.

The Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has told Israel Radio that Egypt knows the attackers were radical Islamists.

Gaza tunnels blocked

Meantime security officials in Egypt say the country has begun to seal smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip.

"There are preparations to close the tunnels," a security official told the news agency AFP.

The tunnels are used to smuggle people in and out of Gaza, in addition to food and fuel.

jr/mz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)