Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab apologised on Monday after police and military accidentally killed 12 people, including eight Mexican tourists and four Egyptian nationals, over the weekend, according to local media.
The victims were part of a four-car tourist convoy travelling in the Bahariya oasis in the west of Egypt, when it was attacked by police and military.
The Egyptian officials reportedly fired on the tourist convoy, mistaking it for militants while “chasing terrorist elements” in the area, according to the Egyptian Interior Ministry.
State news agency, Al Ahram, said Rasha Azazi, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, told international news agencies that the tour company involved "did not have permits and did not inform authorities" about their presence in the area.
But Moataz al Sayed, a member of the ministry’s tourism advisory board and former head of the General Tourist Guides Syndicate, told a local investigative online site that the convoy had received permissions and clearances.
"There were no signs or flags and none of the checkpoints warned them against any restrictions," he told the Egyptian investigative website Mada Masr.
Sayed said that one of the tourists was diabetic and in need of immediate medical attention, prompting the tour guides to take a shortcut back to their hotel.
But the group did not receive any warnings that the area they were passing through was restricted from any of the military checkpoints they had passed, or from their police escort.
While the vast Western Desert is a popular tourist site, it has become increasingly dangerous because of the deteriorating security situation in Libya.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mahlab offered his apologies in a phone call to the Mexican ambassador in Cairo the Al-Yawm al-Sabi website reported.
"I have phoned Mexican Ambassador Alvarez Fuentes to reassure him that the injured are receiving proper medical care and that the government apologises for the foreign casualties," the website quoted him as saying.
Egypt has been battling militants for years, with attacks escalating since the 2013 deposing of President Mohamed Morsi and most of the fighting has taken place in the Sinai Peninsula with occasional attacks taking place in Cairo and other cities.