mubarak 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday demanded that Israel immediately end its military operations in the Gaza Strip and withdraw its forces, even as the Jewish State was contemplating a unilateral cease-fire that would keep its soldiers in Gaza.
Mubarak's call came on the same day that Hamas leaders maintained that fighting with Israel would continue if their demands for an Israeli withdrawal were not met.
Egypt has been a key interlocutor in the weeks of negotiation to bring about an end to Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip to stop Hamas rocket fire. More than 1,100 Palestinians have died since the strikes began December 27.
"I demand Israel today stop its military operations immediately. I demand from its leaders an immediate and unconditional cease-fire and I demand from them a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Strip," he said.
Unlike the widespread condemnation of Israel elsewhere in the Arab world, the Egyptian government has blamed Hamas for provoking the fighting and has worked closely with Israeli officials on the crisis.
Egypt put forward a proposal for a temporary cease-fire followed by a more lasting agreement to end arms smuggling to Hamas and open the crossings into the Gaza Strip.
Egypt has been adamant, however, that any international force monitoring the borders or the Gaza Strip could not be based on Egyptian territory.
"Egypt will never accept any foreign presence of monitors on its land. I say this is a red line I have not and will not allow to be crossed," he said.
Mubarak said once a cease-fire had been agreed on, Egypt would work to lift the blockade of Gaza and reopen the crossings - a key Palestinian demand.
"The Rafah crossing will remain open to the international, Arab and Egyptian humanitarian aid and humanitarian cases until there are arrangements in place to reopen the crossing," he said, adding that they would be based on a 2005 agreement between Israel, the EU and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel's decision to pursue a unilateral cease-fire seemed to be at least partly driven by a deal signed with the United States on Friday aimed at cutting off the supply of smuggled weapons to Hamas in Gaza.
The document signed in Washington outlines a framework under which the US will provide military and intelligence assets, including detection and surveillance equipment, as well as logistical help and training to Israel, Egypt and other nations in the region. The equipment and training would be used for monitoring Gaza's land and sea borders.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, however, said Saturday his country was not bound by the agreement.
The US and Israel can "do what they wish with regard to the sea or any other country in Africa, but when it comes to Egyptian land, we are not bound by anything except the safety and national security of the Egyptian people and Egypt's ability to protect its borders," Aboul Gheit told reporters.
He also denied any weapons were smuggled into Gaza from Egypt, saying they are all transported to the territory by sea.