Egyptians lift siege on peacekeeper base at Israeli border

Brotherhood leaders praise late Coptic pope for refusing to let pilgrims visit "occupied Jerusalem."

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 23, 2012 05:08
2 minute read.
Sinai border fence

Sinai border fence 370. (photo credit: Reuters/ BAZ RATNER)

 
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Egyptians who had surrounded the base of an international peacekeeping force in the Sinai Peninsula lifted their blockade on Wednesday after negotiations with the Egyptian authorities, a security source said.

The Egyptians from the town of Rafah near the border with the Gaza Strip had blocked access to the base – home to soldiers monitoring the Israeli- Egyptian border – to pressure the government to release two of their relatives from prison.

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The authorities agreed to reopen the investigation into kidnapping charges brought against the pair, the source said.

The protesters, some of them armed, had blocked access to the base since Tuesday afternoon, using burning tires and vehicles. It was the second time the base had been blockaded in a week. An eight-day siege by armed Beduin, also demanding the release of relatives, was lifted last Friday.

The base belongs to the multinational force that oversees observance of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel through patrols of their heavily guarded frontier.

Peacekeeping officials were not immediately available for comment.

State control has weakened in the Sinai Peninsula since Hosni Mubarak was ousted from the presidency last year.



Popular elections have ushered in an Islamist-dominated parliament, and the post-Mubarak era has seen worsening relations between Egypt’s Muslim majority and estimated 10 million Coptic Christians.

This week the Muslim Brotherhood – whose Freedom and Justice Party holds about 40 percent of parliamentary seats – seized the opportunity of the Coptic pope’s death on Saturday to present an image of tolerance toward Christians.

Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie on Tuesday praised the late patriarch, Shenouda III, as a “true patriot.”

“Pope Shenouda’s true patriotism was evident in many situations over his long life,” Badie said, according to the Brotherhood website Ikhwanweb.

Badie reserved special praise for Shenouda’s prohibition on Coptic pilgrimage to Christian holy sites in Israel. “I remember him saying: ‘We will not visit the Church of the Resurrection [Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre] except with our Muslim brothers when they visit al-Aksa Mosque,’” he said.

The remarks came a day after Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a cleric who is the Brotherhood’s chief ideologue, lauded Shenouda for refusing to let his followers visit “occupied” Jerusalem and for “respecting” Shari’a law.

“We share with our Coptic brothers their huge grief, and we wish them all the best in their new lives and the choosing of a new Pope, cooperating with their fellow Egyptian brothers to build together a new free, democratic, pious Egypt,” Qaradawi said, according to the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper.

“We hope that Muslims and Christians together make a new life based on solidarity, love, forgiveness, peace, cooperation on righteousness, piety, truth and patience,” he said.

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