Angry Egypt weighs how to handle Libyan boat bound for Gaza Strip and turned back by Israel.
By BRENDA GAZZAR
In a clear sign of Egypt's increasing frustration with the Hamas leadership, Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit is blaming the Islamic movement for the breakdown in reconciliation talks with Fatah, Egyptian media reported Thursday.
Gheit said Egypt's reconciliation efforts between the two factions have failed thus far "due to Hamas's lack of enthusiasm for reconciliation," according to the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper.
In addition, a top Egyptian parliamentarian warned this week that his country would not allow Hamas, which took over the coastal strip in June 2006, to establish an Islamic state in Gaza and claimed Hamas's rule over Gaza was helping Israel to achieve its strategic aims.
"Egypt will not accept the establishment of an Islamic emirate along the eastern border," said Mustafa el-Fiqi, who heads Egypt's Parliament's foreign relations committee, on Wednesday, according to the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi.
Fiqi, who is a member of Egypt's ruling party, accused Hamas of serving Israel's interests by seizing power in Gaza. "Whoever committed this coup provided the greatest service to Israel by deprieving the Palestinian cause of its content," he said during a symposium organized by the official MENA news agency.
Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Hassam Zaki told The Jerusalem Post Thursday Fiqi's comments should be taken in context. "This is a member of parliament from the ruling party," he said.
Egypt is increasingly displeased with Hamas, especially after it boycotted Egypt-mediated Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo last month over demands that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas release Hamas prisoners from West Bank jails.
The Egyptian parliamentarian described the recent events in Gaza as implementation of an Israeli strategy whose goal it is to transfer parts of the Palestinian people to live in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, al-Quds al-Arabi said.
"We are not against Hamas, but there is a context of patriotism under the (Palestinian) flag, unity, Palestinian legitimacy and the resolutions of the Arab League," he said.
Fiqi also argued that the "attribution of a religious nature" to the Palestinian cause - another reference to the Islamist character of Hamas - "is leading to its fragmentation."
While spokesman Zaki declined to discuss Egypt's relations with Hamas, he did say "we want to help the Palestinians in Gaza who are suffering.â€¦and we want Hamas to be an active part of the Palestinian political equation that eventually takes part in peace efforts and in a peaceful negotiated agreement with Israelis to establish a Palestinian state."
Egypt, a secular state, has great difficulty dealing with an Islamic state or entity, particularly on its borders, says Dr. Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
The National Front, an offshoot group of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood, ruled Sudan during a military coup in 1989 and continued to rule for nearly a decade afterwards. During this time, there was an attempted assassination on President Hosni Mubarak from Sudan, the country was considered a safe haven for Egyptian terrorists and weapons were smuggled into Egypt.
Like it did with Sudan, Egypt is trying to change the situation in Gaza by dialogue and by attempting to bring the Palestinian Authority back into Gaza, Aly said. At the same time, it is taking necessary security measures so Hamas does not harm Egypt - as it did when the group helped tear down the border with Egypt to allow a flood of nearly 700,000 Gazans into the country earlier this year.
Egypt, he said, "is patiently working to change the situation in Gaza, taking into consideration that we are dealing with a reality that [Hamas] is also in command of a million and a half Palestinians."
Meanwhile, Zaki said he did not know the status of the Libyan boat equipped with 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid that aimed to break Israel's blockade of Gaza but was turned back on Monday. The boat reportedly docked that day in the Egyptian port of El-Arish.
"It is unclear how this ship is going to be dealt with at the moment," Zaki said, adding that the issue may already have been resolved but that he was unaware of any developments. "It hasn't happened that ships go to Gaza this wayâ€¦It's a new situation altogether."
In an emergency UN Security Council session Thursday, Libya protested Israel's refusal to allow its ship through, calling it an act of piracy and urging action that will ensure "compliance of Israel with international humanitarian law and the law of the seas," AFP reported.
But the complaints failed to garner unanimous consensus by the council's 14 members, which includes Libya, for an official censure from the UN, the wire service reported Thursday.
Israel says the ship was turned away due to national security reasons, since Libya does not recognize the state of Israel.
AP contributed to this report.
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