Thursday, November 18, 2004 Posted: 0810 GMT (1010 CLT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli forces shot and killed three Egyptian policemen Wednesday night after mistaking them for a terrorist cell operating near the Egypt-Israel border, according to the Israeli military.

The Israel Defense Forces "apologized to the Egyptians about the incident and have offered whatever help they can," according to an IDF statement.

The soldiers were on the Egyptian side of the border, near the location of a terrorist cell that was laying explosives to attack an Israeli border patrol, the IDF said.

Israeli soldiers opened fire on the cell but did not identify hits. Later, the Israeli army received reports that the three policemen had been killed.

The IDF said that from the initial investigation, "it would seem that there was an operational and professional failure that was based on the incorrect identification of three figures."

The bombs planted by the terrorist cell are being defused by the Israeli forces, amid a deeper investigation into the incident.