Egypt nixes Hamas call for alliance

Mubarak reportedly enraged by talk of economic separation from Israel, fearing pressure to assume responsibility for Gaza.

Mubarak 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mubarak 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Under pressure from Egypt, Hamas on Sunday backtracked from its call for economic disengagement from Israel. "Egypt has made it clear that it does not want to be responsible for providing the Gaza Strip with fuel and electricity," a senior Hamas official in Gaza City told The Jerusalem Post. "They have informed us that the Gaza Strip must remain Israel's problem." The talk about economic separation from Israel is said to have enraged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who expressed fear that such a move would increase pressure on him to assume responsibility for the Gaza Strip. The idea, which has been welcomed by Israel, was first floated by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh over the weekend. In remarks published by the Hamas-affiliated Falasteen newspaper, Haniyeh said that "Gaza must maintain stronger economic links with Egypt as a way of economic disconnection from Israel." He said Hamas was seeking to disconnect the Strip's economy from Israel and receive food, fuel and electricity from Egypt. "We said during our election campaign in 2006 that we are seeking to move toward an economic disengagement from the Israeli occupation," Haniyeh said. "Egypt has a greater ability to meet the needs of Gaza." Haniyeh's statements were later echoed by his top aide, Ahmed Youssef, who called on Egypt to assume its responsibilities toward the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip so that they would no longer have to rely on Israel. However, the two Hamas leaders were forced to retract their statements after being severely reprimanded by top Egyptian government officials, the Hamas official in Gaza City said. The Egyptians are also reported to have threatened to cut off ties with Hamas and ban Hamas representatives from entering its territory. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has also rejected Hamas's proposal, warning that such a move would absolve Israel of its responsibilities toward the Palestinians in Gaza. The PA also warned that "bringing Egypt back into the Gaza Strip" would kill the Palestinians' hope of establishing an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Youssef denied that Hamas wanted to separate the Strip from the West Bank. "The West Bank and Gaza Strip is one unified geographical unit," he stressed. Explaining Hamas's call for economic disengagement from Israel, he added: "What I was talking about was the need to change the situation where the Gaza Strip would continue to depend on economic aid from Israel. "We want to stop Israel from exploiting the economic situation to blackmail the Palestinians." Youssef said the idea did not change the fact that the Gaza Strip "is still under Israeli occupation." But, he added, "All we want is to breathe freedom, find jobs, develop agriculture and promote trade." In return for abandoning the idea, the Egyptians have promised to consider giving Hamas a central role in managing the Rafah border crossing, sources close to Hamas said. According to the sources, Egypt promised to raise the issue of Hamas's participation in controlling the crossing with the US and some EU countries, as well as with Israel. "Our Egyptian brothers have promised to reopen the Rafah border crossing soon," said Taher a-Nunu, spokesman for the Hamas government. "Our delegation to the Cairo talks [last week] reached an agreement with the Egyptians on the need to reopen the border crossing." Khalil Abu Lailah, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said his movement was not opposed to the presence of forces loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the Rafah terminal. But, he continued, Hamas would not accept any deal that allowed Israel to have indirect control there. "We're prepared to control the border together with Abbas's forces," he said. "The border must be only under Palestinian-Egyptian control." Egypt said Sunday it would resist any fresh attempts by the Palestinians to breach its border with the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, Egyptian border guards closed the last gap in the border with the Gaza Strip, ending the 11-day influx of Palestinians into Egypt. Palestinians who watched the Egyptians reseal the border expressed outrage and vowed to continue their efforts to tear down the barriers.