- For quite some time after the attack, the Egyptians insisted that a bottled-gas canister had exploded, but crowds of Israeli vacationers and tourists were not willing to take a chance. Realizing that it was not just an accident, they fled to the border crossing, leaving their luggage behind.
Within a few minutes after the reports of the explosion, ambulances began arriving at the Taba border terminal. But the confusion-stricken Egyptian side created difficulties and would not allow them to cross the border to treat the many wounded. This continued for a long time.
Afterwards, when the border was finally opened, the Egyptians would not allow Israelis to enter Egypt, except for members of the rescue forces.
Meanwhile, hundreds of terrified Israelis began arriving at the border crossing, many with cars that had been damaged in the explosion, still bearing Egyptian license plates. A large traffic jam of ambulances formed quickly, but disorganization reigned. At a certain stage reports arrived that Egyptian police at the border crossing, feeling they were beginning to lose control, started firing into the air.
In addition to all the difficulties they imposed, the Egyptians forbade the rescue unit to operate in the hotel and would not allow Israeli helicopters to land in Ras Hasatan. “There was an argument between the Egyptians because of the passports, and it took them forty minutes to go out to the Israeli side. I was not wounded and neither were my friends,” recalled one of the eyewitnesses who arrived at the border crossing. “We went down to the seashore. All the people came out wounded. They were hurt, with blood on their heads, on their legs. The explosion was not in the casino but more toward the lobby, in the direction of the dining room.”
And for all this time, until approximately 1:00 a.m., the Egyptians continued to claim that there was no evidence of a terror attack.
One thing was completely obvious to all the high-ranking members of the security establishment. During the rescue operation at the Taba Hilton in Sinai, every minute is critical. Past experience shows that when people are trapped in ruins, the number of people who can be saved decreases sharply as time passes.
A short while after the attack was reported, the security establishment prepared for an enormous rescue operation in Sinai. The prime minister’s counter-terrorism adviser, Danny Arditi, even called on Israelis to return to Israel from all parts of Sinai for fear of additional terror attacks. In coordination with police, helicopters and buses were brought to Sinai in order to carry out the evacuation, although Egyptian bureaucracy made the task very difficult. Director of the Political-Security Staff in the Defense Ministry Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Gilad held talks with the Egyptians in order to ask them to ease their strict inspection regulations for entering and leaving Sinai and allow Israeli security forces inside. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, too, spoke about the matter with Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman.