Israeli soldiers console one another outside the Mount Harif military base near the city of Mitzpe Ramon in Israel's southern Negev desert, adjacent to the border with Egypt, on June 3.
Jerusalem/London CNN  — 

Three Israeli soldiers and an Egyptian policeman have been killed in a rare border crossing incident.

Details of the incident – the first of its kind in more than a decade – remain disputed.

Egypt claims its policeman crossed the border between the two countries in pursuit of drug smugglers on Saturday and that he was then killed alongside the three Israelis in an ensuing gun battle.

But the Israel Defense Forces described the events differently. They say the Egyptian policeman shot two Israeli border guards – and that when Israeli back-up arrived later, a firefight ensued that killed both the policeman and a third Israeli.

On Saturday, the IDF’s international spokesperson described the event as the first of its kind in at least a decade — since an Islamic State gunman crossed from Sinai into Egypt and killed a police officer and members of a family.

The first two IDF soldiers killed were discovered dead by their lieutenant when they did not answer their radio, according to the spokesman.

They had been on a 12-hour guard duty shift since 9pm on Friday night and were found dead some time after 6am on Saturday morning, he told reporters.

The gunman who was later killed by the IDF did not have a sniper rifle, so the soldiers who were killed in the guard post were probably shot at close range, the spokesman said.

Israel has named the three soldiers killed as Staff Sgt. Ohad Danan, 20, who was killed in the gun battle; and Staff Sgt. Ori Izhad Iluz and Sgt. Lia Ben nun, 19, who were killed in their guard post.

Different accounts but ‘working together’

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Israel was investigating the incident in conjunction with the Egyptian armed forces.

He did not directly address the Egyptian contention that the Egyptian policeman had entered Israel in pursuit of drug smugglers and that the three IDF troops were killed in a gunfight resulting from chasing the drug smugglers.

An ambulance leaves a military base following a deadly shootout in southern Israel along the Egyptian border on June 3, 2023.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Twitter that Israeli and Egyptian defense ministers have agreed to work together to prevent attacks along their shared border following the incident.

“I spoke this evening with my Egyptian counterpart, Minister Mohamed Zaki. I emphasized the importance of our cooperation in the investigation of the severe attack in which three IDF troops were killed. We agreed to work together to prevent terrorism along our border and to further strengthen defense ties between our countries,” Gallant tweeted.

The Egyptian military said Zaki called Gallant “to discuss the circumstances” of Saturday’s accident and “to offer condolences to the victims of the accident from both sides.”

During their phone call, the ministers also discussed their intention to “jointly coordinate to take the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such events in the future,” the Egyptian military said via Twitter.

Egypt and Israel have officially been at peace since 1979, when Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel.