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Analysis - Row over killings shows Egypt-Israel ties cooling

An Egyptian protester paints the sole of a shoe with the Israeli flag during a protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo August 21, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

CAIRO, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Egypt’s stern rebuke to Israel over the deaths of five Egyptian security personnel is the clearest sign yet of cooling ties as Cairo’s military rulers try to appease a newly-assertive public largely antagonistic to the Jewish state.

The Arab world’s most populous nation is unlikely to scrap its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, cornerstone of a brittle power balance in the region, despite popular pressure following the overthrow of U.S.-friendly leader Hosni Mubarak in February.

Yet the top army officers now in charge in Cairo have broken with Mubarak’s softly-softly approach.

Mubarak saw himself as a pioneer in the pursuit of Middle East peace, yet lost credibility among many Egyptians for what they saw as his failure to stand up to Israel and its powerful backer the United States.

“The Egyptian citizen, and the Arab citizen as a whole, is not ready to accept the kind of behaviour that former president Mubarak and his group used to accept,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

The wind began to change soon after Mubarak’s removal. Egypt made goodwill gestures to Israel’s arch-foe Iran, eased the isolation of Islamist group Hamas in Gaza by opening the border with the territory and brokered a reconciliation deal between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.

It also moved to redraw contracts for gas export to Israel to squeeze a better deal.

When five Egyptian security personnel were killed during an Israeli clash with gunmen who had killed eight Israelis close to the Sinai border on Thursday, Egypt accused Israel of breaching their peace treaty and said it would recall its ambassador.