Arabs continue diplomatic bid to slam Israel, halt IAF

Former Egyptian envoy blasts Hamas leaders for going into hiding; says "no one cares" if Palestinians destroyed.

By BRENDA GAZZAR
January 1, 2009 12:59
Arabs continue diplomatic bid to slam Israel, halt IAF

Haniyeh says hi 248 88 AP. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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Arab diplomatic efforts to end the IDF operation in Gaza are pressing on despite a setback on Wednesday, when a draft Security Council resolution prepared by the Arab League that condemns "Israeli aggression" and calls for a halt in IDF attacks was rejected by the US. The United States said the resolution was one-sided since it made no mention of Hamas halting its rocket fire on southern Israel. Arab delegates in New York "are still trying to see what the views are of this member of the Security Council, and a [Arab League] ministerial delegation will be going to New York in the coming few days to continue this effort," Hesham Yossef, chief of staff for Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. The resolution strongly condemned Israel and called for an immediate end to attacks on civilians in Gaza, while stressing the need for restoration of calm and the opening of border crossings for humanitarian aid. The goal is still to pass a binding UN Security Council resolution that would "stop the military attacks" and "end the act of aggression against the Palestinian people," Yossef said. He could not say, however, whether Arab League states would be willing to accept a reference to the Hamas rockets in such a resolution. "We will see what we will do," he said. "I can't tell you at this time." Some experts argue that the draft resolution and how it was received is further proof that the Arab League has become increasingly weak and irrelevant over the years. "What it reflects is the incapacity of the Arab League to do very much about the crisis at all," said Asher Susser, a professor at Tel Aviv University and a senior fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The league was unable "to contribute to any kind of settlement; the approach to call upon the United States to exercise pressure to desist is essentially diplomatically meaningless," he said. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have blamed Palestinian divisions and, more specifically, Hamas, for opening the door to Israel's aerial assault. Other more radical states, such as Syria, have steered clear of any criticism of Hamas and have pointed fingers at Egypt for allegedly siding with Jerusalem and for not doing more to help Gazans. In fact, it was reported that Syria wanted to see a resolution that required Cairo to fully open the Rafah crossing between Sinai and Gaza, which Egypt has largely kept closed since Hamas came to power in 2007. But Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who does not want to legitimize Hamas, has made it clear that he would only open the crossing when the Palestinian Authority controlled the Rafah terminal, as required by a 2005 international crossing agreement his country has signed. Today, major Arab states, such as Egypt, did not have the clout that they used to have in the region, Susser said. Countries such as Turkey, which has been involved in peace and conflict resolution efforts in the region, and Iran, which has been egging on Hamas, were playing a more meaningful role today than Arab countries, he said. On Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was in Cairo to meet with Mubarak, part of a Middle East tour to develop an Egyptian-Turkish initiative to end the violence. The initiative calls for a halt to Israel's assault, a return to a truce and an international mechanism to ensure the opening of Gaza's border crossings. Erdogan was quoted on Thursday saying Turkey could step in to try to broker talks between Hamas and Fatah, which Egypt is doing, if the Arab League or Egypt asked him to, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News. Indeed, the Arab League had become an assembly of many Arab states that were declining in influence, Susser said. As a result, the 22-member league is handing the Gaza issue over to the United Nations, "sending the message that this is too big for them," said Eyal Zisser, director of the Moshe Dayan Center. "They knew this resolution has no meaning; it has to do with showing the Arab street that they are trying to do something." Meanwhile, the war of words between Hamas and Egypt escalated again on Thursday, when a senior Egyptian parliamentarian charged Hamas leaders with abandoning Gazans. "Where are the Hamas leaders now, when the residents of Gaza are getting killed? All of Hamas's leadership is in bunkers," Muhammad Bassiouny, the head of the parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, charged in an interview with an Egyptian television station. Bassiouny is a former ambassador to Israel. Hamas leaders have largely gone underground since the IAF began its bombing campaign on Saturday, and on Wednesday, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin said that many members of the organization's leadership echelon were hiding in mosques and hospitals, some of them disguised as doctors and male nurses. In a televised address to the Palestinian public on Wednesday evening - the first such appearance since violence flared six days ago - Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said he derived confidence from his conviction that "the Arab people have proven the Palestinian issue is in their hearts." Bassiouny scoffed at Haniyeh's faith in the Arab world's support, saying, "No one cares if all of the Palestinians are destroyed, what kind of talk is this?" Bassiouny was also high critical of Hamas for killing an Egyptian border guard on Sunday. Also on Thursday, Egypt's foreign minister said Hamas must ensure rocket fire stops in any truce deal to halt Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip, criticizing the Islamist group for giving Israel an excuse to launch the bombardment. Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Hamas's rocket attacks handed Israel the "opportunity on a golden platter" to launch the offensive. Meanwhile, the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported Thursday that Egyptian security forces were in pursuit of a Hamas terrorist cell that had recently infiltrated Egypt, for fear of an attack on Egyptian soil. According to the report, Egyptian authorities were also concerned that the cell would target security forces along the border. The paper reported that Egyptian forces had arrested 59 Palestinians in the city of Al-Qantara a-Sharkiya in the northeast of the country. The fugitives from Gaza were unarmed, the report said, but authorities were nevertheless taking steps to return then to the Strip. Also on Thursday, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is allied with Hizbullah, urged Arabs to support Palestinian "resistance" in Gaza to prove Israeli could not break the will of the Arab people. AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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