American, French and Czech peacekeepers killed in helicopter crash in Egypt

A helicopter carrying the US-led multinational force and observers (MFOs) in the Egyptian Sinai crashed on Thursday near the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing seven members of the peacekeeping force, the MFO said.

The dead were five Americans, a French citizen and a Czech citizen, all members of the military, the MFO said in a statement. It added that a US MFO member survived and was medically evacuated.

An earlier statement had said eight peacekeepers were killed, including six Americans.

An official who was informed of the incident, who could not be identified by name or nationality, told Reuters that it was an accident caused by a mechanical fault.

The Czech Ministry of Defense released a statement confirming that a Czech army member was among those killed in the helicopter crash. The statement said the cause of the crash was a technical error.

In a tweet, the US Department of Defense said that its first report of six service members was incorrect and that five US service members had been killed and one in hospital.

The Israeli military said it evacuated the injured peacekeeper to a hospital in Israel.

MFOs were installed to monitor the demilitarization of Sinai under the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement. It has declined in size in recent years as neighboring countries have stepped up security cooperation against Islamist-led Sinai uprisings.

But both Israel and Egypt have previously opposed proposals from Washington to reduce US participation in the MFO, whose website lists about 452 Americans among the force’s 1,154 military personnel.

Cairo sees the MFO as part of a relationship with Israel that, although unpopular with many Egyptians, has taken billions of dollars in US defense aid, sweetening the foreign-imposed demilitarization of its sovereign Sinai territory.

For Israel, MFOs offer strategic assurance in a region where fidelity can change. In a statement of condolence, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi described the MFO as “extremely important … for maintaining security and stability”.

The MFO statement said the helicopter was on a “routine” mission when it crashed. The Israeli military said in a statement that it had offered to send a rescue squad to the scene.

According to its website, MFOs draw staff from 13 countries and cover an area of ​​more than 10,000 square kilometers in Sinai.

(REUTERS)