CAIRO -- Israel "deeply regrets" the deaths of Egyptian security forces who were killed last week in the pursuit of gunmen who had carried out a deadly ambush on the Israeli side of the restive border region between the two nations, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday.

Barak said Israel and Egypt would conduct a joint inquiry to clear up the disputed circumstances surrounding the gun battle that left at least three Egyptian troops dead and several wounded. It came hours after eight Israelis were killed in an ambush reportedly carried out by Palestinian militants who had breached the border from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

The Egyptian deaths have plunged the neighbors into their worst diplomatic standoff in a decade, and suggests a much colder peace now that a popular uprising has forced longtime Israeli peace partner Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, from power.

Egyptian protesters seeking to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel rejected Barak's statements, saying it wasn't a full apology. They urged a tougher response from Egypt's ruling military council.

The interim Egyptian government Saturday said it would recall its ambassador to Israel over the slayings, but later appeared to backtrack, with officials telling the Al-Jazeera channel that the matter was still under review.

Former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Shalom Cohen paid a brief visit to Cairo Saturday, meeting with foreign ministry officials before returning to Israel. The Arab League also planned an emergency session to address the crisis.

None of the developments did much to appease the throngs of Egyptian protesters who continued to mass outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo, where they demanded an end to the long-standing Egyptian-Israeli peace accord. Israel is deeply unpopular among Egyptians, who identify with the Palestinian cause.

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