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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday denied apologizing to Egypt following the deaths of five Egyptian soldiers at the hands of Israeli forces Thursday.
"I didn't apologize to Egypt, I expressed regret," Barak said in an interview with Israel's Channel 2 News, Israel's most widely-watched TV news network.
The deaths took place when Israeli forces crossed the Egyptian border into Sinai in pursuit of militants that killed eight Israelis; the militants apparently crossed into Israel from Sinai.
In an statement on Saturday, Barak said, "Israel deeply regrets the deaths of the Egyptian officers."
Egypt’s ruling military council responded the next day by saying that it considered Barak’s words a positive step, but that they would not be enough to calm the popular uproar in Egypt.
However, the military council did not reiterate Egyptian demands for a formal apology, thereby stirring speculation among Israeli political commentators that the council was willing to put the matter on hold pending the outcome of investigations.
The council also neglected to discuss whether Egypt would recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv.
During the interview Monday evening, Barak partially gave in to Egyptian demands by admitting a degree of Israeli responsibility for the incident.
“There was an error in judgment and in appraising the situation,” Barak said.
He claimed that military commanders had failed to properly assess the intelligence available to them, which indicated the high possibility of an attack near the Egyptian-Israeli border.
Barak’s admission came in the wake of Egyptian pressure to accept responsibility for having failed to secure the border.
Attempting to strike a conciliatory tone, Barak reiterated the importance of peace with Egypt.
“The peace with Egypt is Israel’s most important strategic asset,” he said.
Egyptian protesters have gathered before the Israeli Embassy in Cairo en masse in recent days to protest the Egyptian deaths.
The protesters have demanded expelling the Israeli ambassador, permanently stopping the export of natural gas to Israel, and terminating relations with Israel.