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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 October, 2004, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Shared mission after Taba attack
By Penny Spiller
BBC News Online, Taba

It is a scene of no small significance. A team of Israeli soldiers in their distinctive khaki uniforms and yellow helmets working alongside Egyptian firefighters in dark blue with their gold or red hard hats.

The suspected al-Qaeda attack on an Egyptian hotel full of Israelis has forced a rare co-operation between the two nations.

Egyptian and Israeli rescuers work together at the Taba blast site
Rescuers from both sides concentrate on the task facing them
These Middle East neighbours were at war for 30 years after Israel's founding in 1948 - and even since the peace treaty of 1979 relations have been cool and often strained.

Fetouh Hassanin of the Egyptian Red Crescent calls the co-operation at Taba a historic moment.

"This has been born out of tragedy but I think it is going to bring us closer in future and change the way of thinking," he said.

Col Gideon Bar-On, spokesman for the Israeli rescue effort, described it as "good co-operation" between the two nations.

Little communication

But there may be some way to go before the two are working with real mutual understanding.

In the garden of the Hilton hotel where rescue workers rest in the shade of the trees there is little sign of integration.

Egyptians sit in groups dotted around the garden. Israelis are clustered mainly around the tent they have put up as the operation's headquarters.

They share water and food but there is not much communication between the two.

I think we are talking to each other in a very respectful way
Fetouh Hassanin
Egyptian Red Crescent
There is little doubt - with their wealth of expertise in dealing with such crises - that the Israelis are leading the effort.

They have brought in cranes, hi-tech detection equipment, and some 150 reservists in their national and international search and rescue division to the site in Taba.

Seventy soldiers are on the site at any one time.

By comparison, Egyptians have a team of 50 from their fire service and military using more basic equipment to clear the rubble. Egyptian police are also on hand guarding the site.

Language barrier

An Israeli soldier who wanted to be identified only as Amnon said there had been some frustration with the Egyptians at first when they were forced to remain at the border for five hours shortly after the blasts occurred.

He said language was also a problem with few Israelis able to speak Arabic and few Egyptians with an understanding of English. But he said they were working well together on the site itself.

Egyptian and Israeli rescuers bring a body out of the rubble
The two countries are sharing the grief

"Obviously we have much better equipment. The Egyptians are mainly using their hands to clear the rubble. But we have a great deal of experience doing this work. Certainly the Egyptians we have been working with have been doing a good job."

Zelig Feiner of Zaka, the Israeli group that specialises in recovering and identifying victims of bomb attacks, agrees.

He said that the Israeli team was very aware that it was working on Egyptian soil.

"We are working well with the Egyptians, we have been able to help them identify their dead. And they are providing us with manpower."

Fetouh Hassanin of the Egyptian Red Crescent admits that they are having to overcome a long history of mistrust and misunderstanding.

"But we have been brought together by this extreme circumstance," he said.

"I think we are talking to each other in a very respectful way."

Rescue workers are searching the scene

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