Israel to examine reports of Egyptian soldiers buried under Israeli tourist park
The Israeli government plans to investigate reports of a mass grave in central Israel containing the bodies of Egyptian commandos who were killed during the 1967 Middle East war, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Sunday.
Lapid's office said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi brought up the issue in a call after two Israeli newspapers published witness accounts suggesting there was an unmarked grave near Latrun, an area between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where Israel's army fought the Egyptian soldiers decades ago.
Newspapers Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz published archival material and interviews with residents recounting how dozens of Egyptian soldiers killed in the battle may be buried there.
"The Egyptian president raised the report about the collective grave of Egyptian soldiers during the (1967) Six Day War," Lapid's office said.
The Israeli leader, according to the statement, directed his military secretary "to examine the issue in-depth and to update Egyptian officials".
During the 1967 war, Israel triumphed against Syria, Egypt and Jordan, occupying the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Egypt's casualties during the war exceeded 11,000.
On 5 June 1967, fighting broke out between Israeli troops and an elite group of 100 Egyptian soldiers in Kibbutz Nahshon, a settlement in "no man's land" along Israel's 1948 borders and the now illegally occupied West Bank.
According to Ze’ev Bloch, a regional Israeli commander stationed in Nahshon, the Egyptian soldiers at the time were in a state of “confusion, shock and fear” and were “lost in the field”.
While being encircled by Israeli troops, 25 Egyptian soldiers were killed by a fire that was ignited in the fields and phosphorus shells. Others were killed in exchanges of gunfire, bringing the total death toll to 80.
Days later, Israeli authorities dug a 20-metre grave and buried the Egyptian soldiers' bodies together, taking no items from them that could later lead to identification.
In a pamphlet published a year after the war, one local inhabitant described how he sensed a horrible smell from the mass grave that made him “dizzy”. When he later went to locate the smell, he found the body parts of the Egyptian troops.
The site is now home to Mini Israel, a tourist attraction with hundreds of miniature replicas of landmarks and buildings in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
In January, Haaretz revealed that a mass grave of Palestinians massacred in the village of Tantura in 1948 had been discovered under the car park of a popular Israeli beach.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.