The shooting of seven Israeli tourists, killed in the Sinai Peninsula by an apparently berserk Egyptian security officer, threatened Sunday to further sour official relations between the two nations despite efforts by top Israeli officials to avoid inflaming the situation.
Neither the Israeli Foreign Ministry nor the prime minister's office released any official statement, pending an answer to Jerusalem's request to Egypt for clarification within 48 hours of still-sketchy details of the incident. The shootings occurred Saturday afternoon at Ras Bourka, about 25 miles south of the Israeli port of Eilat.
"We simply don't have enough information," a Foreign Ministry official said when asked to comment.
Angry Health Minister
However, a clearly angry Israeli health minister, Mordechai Gur, charged during a visit to two children wounded in the attack that at least one, and possibly more, of the victims died needlessly because Egyptian police prevented medical help from reaching the scene.
"I don't understand any behavior of that kind," Gur said. "And, of course, the Egyptian government will have to explain to us and will have to take measures first of all against those people who were involved and then to make sure that it will never happen again."
Mohammed Bassouni, charge d'affaires at the Egyptian Embassy here, denied that Egyptian security officers interfered with administration of medical aid to the victims. He branded reports to the contrary a "malicious rumor" aimed at undermining relations between the two nations.
Egyptian accounts of the incident said that a policeman went berserk, disarmed four of his colleagues and opened fire, killing eight people--the seven Israelis, four of them children, and his own commanding officer.
Israel radio quoted Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, a right-wing member of the Knesset (Parliament), as blaming the incident on hatred of Israel fostered by the Egyptian media. Waldman called on Israel to recall its ambassador to Cairo and to break off all talks with both Egypt and Jordan until they sever their ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israeli police said Sunday that pro-PLO terrorists are suspected in the deaths of three other Israelis whose bodies were found over the weekend. The bound bodies of a young couple missing since last Wednesday were found about six miles southwest of Jerusalem, and the body of a kibbutz member who disappeared while horseback riding Friday was discovered near the northern Israeli town of Afula. All three were shot to death.
The three victims of suspected terrorists and one of four children slain in the Sinai were buried Sunday. Ofri Gilad-Turel, 12, was buried next to her father, who was killed in action in the Sinai during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Growing Climate of Alarm
The Israeli deaths, especially those laid to terrorism, added to a growing climate of alarm here about recent attacks on Israelis at home and abroad.
Sixteen Israelis have been slain on and near the Israeli-occupied West Bank so far this year--11 of them since June 7. In addition, three Israelis were killed by pro-Palestinian terrorists aboard a yacht berthed in Larnaca, Cyprus, on Sept. 25.
Israel responded to the terrorism with an air raid last Tuesday against PLO headquarters in Tunis. Reacting to that raid, Egypt broke off talks with Israel over a long-standing border dispute in the Sinai, further straining a so-called "cold peace" that has prevailed between the two nations since Israel's June, 1982, invasion of Lebanon.
Against that backdrop, many ordinary Israelis were quick Sunday to fault Egypt for what appeared to be the actions of one crazed man at Ras Bourka on Saturday.
'A Limited Incident'
Speaking to reporters in Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the episode "a limited incident . . . carried out by an insane man." The victims were among 27 Israeli adults and children on a camping vacation to Egypt's Red Sea beaches. They had pitched tents on the Ras Bourka beach, and on Saturday, 11 members of the group climbed a nearby hill.
In an account of the killings broadcast by Israel radio Sunday, survivor Devorah Ovadia told of hearing shots from the hill and then seeing four children, two of them wounded, scrambling down toward the rest of the group.
"They said: 'We were there and one of the soldiers just went out of the building and started to shoot at us. . . . We were running and we were afraid they would kill us.' "
Ovadia said the Egyptians prevented other members of the Israeli group, including a doctor and army-trained medics, from approaching and helping the three adults and four children who ultimately died of their wounds. She said the Egyptians threatened to kill them if they approached their dead and dying friends.
'We Were Helpless'
"Time was passing," the woman, clearly distraught, recalled in the radio interview. "It was half an hour, an hour, and time was life because they were bleeding. No water, nothing. Nobody took care of them for--we were there for two hours and no help, no ambulance, nothing. We knew the people there. They are our friends. And we were helpless. We couldn't do anything."
Ovadia said the Egyptians appeared confused. "I think they were afraid this crazy soldier will kill other people. . . . They didn't know what to do."
Israeli doctors quoted by state radio said that at least one of the victims and possibly as many as four of them died needlessly from loss of blood and lack of speedy treatment. The two boys who were wounded did not arrive at a hospital in Eilat until 9 p.m. Saturday, nearly five hours after the shooting.
Officer's Status Questioned
The Israeli Foreign Ministry asked specifically for an explanation from the Egyptians for the delay in getting medical help for the victims. It also sought clarification of the status of the security officer involved, since the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty specifically bars Egyptian army personnel from the area.
Acting Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens speculated that the gunman might have been a soldier, although a senior Egyptian official in Cairo was quoted as saying that the man belonged to the general security police force.
Israel captured the Sinai from Egypt in the Six-Day War of 1967 and formally returned the last of it in April, 1982, as part of the Camp David accords. A U.N. observer force stationed in the Sinai polices the treaty.