(photo credit: AP)
Egypt's foreign minister said on Thursday that Hamas must ensure rocket fire stops in any truce deal to halt Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip, criticizing the Palestinian group 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 Egypt's president, 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, 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 causing 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 for the past three months. They practically wrote it in the sky."
"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 Authority 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.