Egypt issues ultimatum to PA, Hamas

Threatens to close Gaza border if rival groups fail to reach agreement on controlling Rafah crossing.

egypt gaza 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
egypt gaza 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Egypt has threatened to close its border with the Gaza Strip indefinitely unless the Palestinian Authority and Hamas reach an agreement on controlling the Rafah border crossing, Palestinian sources in Ramallah said Wednesday. The threat came as PA and Hamas representatives arrived in Cairo Wednesday for talks with Egyptian leaders on ways of ending the crisis along the Gaza-Egypt border. The PA delegation, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other senior government officials in Cairo. The Hamas team is headed by Mahmoud Zahar, a top leader of the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip. Some reports suggested that Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal may also arrive in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on the same issue. The sources told The Jerusalem Post that the Egyptians have warned the PA and Hamas leaders that this was there last chance to reach an agreement before Cairo completely sealed its border with the Gaza Strip. "The Egyptian message was very tough," the sources said. "They basically said that they would no longer tolerate the anarchy at their border and would take drastic measures to protect their sovereignty." On the eve of the separate talks with the Egyptians, Hamas and the PA leaders issued statements that reflect the wide gap between the two parties. Hamas continued to demand a central role in controlling the border and rejected Abbas's attempt to redeploy his security forces there. Hamas also rejected the presence of international monitors at the Rafah border crossing, as was the case until last June. "Talking about a partial role [for Hamas] contradicts reality," Zahar told reporters as he crossed into Egypt Wednesday. "The reality is that there is a legitimate [Hamas] government. We will not give up our legitimacy to anybody." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned that any attempt to deny Hamas a role in controlling the border crossing would fail. Taher a-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, said Abbas's attempt to revive the US-brokered 2005 agreement concerning the Rafah border crossing showed that he was not serious about resolving the current crisis. "That agreement is dead," the spokesman said. "As far as we are concerned, it does not exist. Abbas wants to help the Israeli occupation return to the Rafah border and this is totally unacceptable. We won't allow anyone to restrict the movement of Palestinians any more. The Rafah border crossing should be controlled only by Palestinians and Egyptians." But Abbas, according to his aides, told Mubarak during their meeting that as far as he's concerned, Hamas must not be a party to any deal. The aides quoted Abbas as saying that Hamas was an illegitimate party that seized control over the Gaza Strip through a violent "coup" and as such it must not be rewarded. Abbas is reported to have warned Mubarak against allowing Hamas to have a say in controlling the border. "President Abbas warned that such a move on the part of the Egyptians would be seen as supporting Hamas's coup against the Palestinian Authority," Abbas was quoted as saying. "This will have a negative impact on Palestinian-Egyptian relations." Abbas said after the meeting that he would not talk to Hamas unless they "expressed regret for their coup" and recognized his government. In a separate development, the Egyptians said they had foiled an attempt by Palestinians to launch suicide bombings against Israel from Egypt. Five Palestinian terrorists carrying explosives belts and who were on a suicide mission against Israel were detained by the Egyptian authorities in recent days, the semi-official Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported. According to the report, the five Palestinian suspects were currently being questioned by Egyptian security officials. The paper did not mention the political affiliation of the suspects or their identities. It said several other Palestinians were caught in Egypt with blueprints of the border crossings between Israel and Egypt, including the location of security posts. The Egyptian authorities also confiscated sniper rifles and explosives that were found in the possession of the suspects. Al-Ahram also reported that other Palestinians had tried to bribe Egyptian policemen to allow them to cross border checkpoints with explosives and weapons.