Egypt: Syria may be thwarting cease-fire'

Official tells 'Al-Hayat' that Damascus is trying to deflect int'l scrutiny by inciting violence.

bashar assad 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
bashar assad 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Efforts by Egypt to put together a package deal that would include a cease-fire in Gaza and a new border arrangement between Gaza and Egypt was put on hold following Thursday's terrorist attack at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Government officials in Jerusalem said Saturday night it was now unlikely that Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman would come here in the next few days for discussions on the matter. This would be the second time in a week that Suleiman has postponed a visit to Israel to discuss the situation in the South. Suleiman held talks in Egypt before Thursday's attack with Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives, although no headway was reported on a cease-fire, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad demanding that Israel stop pursuing its members in the West Bank, something Israel has said it would not agree to do. According to the officials, Egypt is waiting to see whether Hamas was responsible for the attack, because if it turns out that it was, it will be a sign that they are determined to continue their attacks, something that would render talks of a case-fire useless. Meanwhile, the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat reported Saturday that Syria may be attempting to deflect international scrutiny of its actions in Lebanon by thwarting Egyptian attempts to moderate a cease-fire. According to the report, a senior Egyptian official told the paper that "Syria may be interested in focusing international attention on the situation in Gaza and the West Bank, instead of the situation in Lebanon." "The current escalation on the Palestinian front is in the interest of the Syrians," the official added. "Indeed the continuation of this situation may embarrass leaders in the Arab world, and force them to go back on their decision to send low-level officials to the Arab summit, which is set to take place in Damascus." The official then went on to insinuate that Syria may have had a hand in the attack. "Senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders who are able to decide on a cease-fire were in Syria [at the time], and we won't forget that when we hear who was behind the terror attack," he said. At the same time, government officials in Jerusalem said it was likely that diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended last Sunday, would begin again this week. Israel has made clear that despite Thursday's attack, it wants to continue with the talks. Abbas said Saturday that "despite all the circumstances we're living through and all the attacks we're experiencing, we insist on peace. There is no other path." He also reiterated his support for Egypt's cease-fire efforts. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said peace talks were expected to resume on Thursday with the arrival of US Lt.-Gen. William Fraser for a joint meeting with Israelis and Palestinians. Fraser is supposed to monitor the sides' compliance with the road map. Israeli officials Saturday night, however, would not confirm that meeting. The cabinet will discuss the attack at its weekly cabinet meeting Sunday. Since the attack, both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have spoken to numerous world leaders, including a conversation Olmert had with US President George W. Bush Thursday evening, shortly after the shooting took place. Bush, according to a statement issued by the White House, told Olmert the US "stands firmly with Israel in the face of this terrible attack," and that "this barbaric and vicious attack on innocent civilians deserves the condemnation of every nation." Since the attack, the Foreign Ministry has been engaged in a public diplomacy offensive, with various officials, led by spokesman Aryeh Mekel, appearing in the media with the underlying message that the attack in Jerusalem was the same as the rocket attacks in the western Negev, in that the aim is to indiscriminately kill Jews to set back the peace process. In addition, the ministry was also in contact over the weekend with the US, French and Ethiopian embassies because three of the eight murdered students held dual citizenship: Segev Peniel Avihail had French citizenship; Avraham David Moses had US citizenship; and Doron Meherete had Ethiopian citizenship. In addition, ministry officials said that one of those still in the hospital holds Canadian and British citizenship, and another holds US citizenship. AP contributed to this report.