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Thursday, January 1, 2009
Egypt FM: Hamas gave Israel the excuse to launch Gaza offensive

Egypt FM: Hamas gave Israel the excuse to launch Gaza offensive
By The Associated Press Last update - 21:44 01/01/2009
www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1051979.html

Egypt's foreign minister said Thursday that Hamas must ensure rocket fire
stops in any truce deal to halt Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip,
criticizing the Palestinian militants for giving Israel an excuse to launch
the bombardment.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit's comments came as Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, part of a tour by the
Turkish leader to work out an Egyptian-Turkish initiative to end the
violence.

The initiative calls for a halt to Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip, a
return to a Hamas-Israel truce and an international mechanism to ensure the
opening of Gaza border crossings. Erdogan met a day earlier with Syrian
President Bashar Assad and was expected to head to Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

Aboul Gheit said any eventual truce agreement should include a mechanism to
oversee that everything proceeds without one side causes problems with the
other. He told journalists that the mechanism could involve international
forces or Arab forces or just observers.

Israeli officials have said they want international monitors to ensure
compliance with any truce. It was not clear whether the mission of monitors
proposed by Aboul Gheit would be to ensure the truce or be limited to
observing border crossings, one of the central issues in the dispute over
Gaza because of Israeli fears of smuggling of weapons.

Aboul Gheit said Israel must immediately halt its offensive, but he insisted
Hamas must commit to enforcing a halt to rockets. "We expect the Palestinian
side to say that if a cease-fire is announced, we'll stop firing rockets,"
he said, warning that some loose group can decide to continue firing rockets
and make it difficult to have a cease-fire.

He criticized Hamas, saying Egypt had seen the signals that Israel was
determined to strike Hamas in Gaza during the last three months. "They
practically wrote it in the sky," he said.

"Unfortunately, they [Hamas] served Israel the opportunity on a golden
platter to hit Gaza," he said.

U.S. allied governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which have been
critical of Hamas and are worried its control of the Gaza Strip gives their
regional rival Iran a foothold. The Israeli onslaught, which has killed some
400 Palestinians since last Saturday, had hiked tempers between pro-U.S.
countries on one side and Hamas' supporters, Syria and Iran, on the other.

Egypt in particular has come under harsh criticism for not opening up the
Rafah crossing, the only access to Gaza that does not go through Israel. Its
opponents accuse Egypt of joining Israel in blockading the territory in an
attempt to remove Hamas, which took control in the tiny coastal strip in
2007 in fierce battles with loyalists of Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas.

Aboul Gheit repeated Egypt's argument that it cannot open Rafah unless
Abbas' Palestinian Authority - which runs the West Bank - controls the
crossing and international monitors are present.

He said Hamas wants Rafah opened because it would represent implicit
Egyptian recognition of the militant group's control of Gaza. Of course this
is something we cannot do, Aboul Gheit said, because it would undermine the
legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and consecrate the split between
Gaza and the West Bank.

Aboul Gheit said Egypt had proposed that Arab foreign ministers who gathered
in Cairo a day earlier request Hamas allow Palestinian Authority control of
Rafah. But Syria rejected the proposal, he said.

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