As Gaza death toll mounts, Cairo tries to mediate Hamas-Israel truce

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 15 Nov 2012

Cairo attempts to hammer out ceasefire between Hamas and Israel as Gaza toll hits 15 dead, hundreds injured

Morsi and Haniya
Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi (R) meets with Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya (Photo: Reuters)

Having recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv in reaction to ongoing Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip, Cairo is now attempting to mediate a negotiated truce between Palestinian resistance group Hamas and Israel.

In televised statements on Thursday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said he had been in contact with various parties in an effort to secure an end to Israeli aggression on the besieged coastal territory.

"There is one way to do this: impose a truce between Hamas and Israel," said one Egyptian official. "We are working on this with the Americans."

Throughout the past few weeks, Cairo has been attempting – without success – to mediate a truce between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers. On Thursday, Cairo called on the US government to urge Israel to be more responsive to truce proposals.

Washington, however, has not made any promises to pressure the Israeli leadership in this regard.

"What we hear from the US and from the Europeans is that Israel has the right to exercise self-defence in the face of rocket attacks coming out of Gaza," said one Egyptian diplomat.

He added, however, that Washington and other world capitals were keen to see an end to Israel's ongoing aggression against Gaza in hopes of avoiding the further destabilisation of an already-volatile Middle East.

This said, concerned Egyptian officials and Cairo-based foreign diplomats say they don't expect the latest round of Israeli aggression to end overnight.

"We're hoping this doesn't last too long, but, realistically speaking, it's unlikely that these attacks will go on for less than a few days – maybe even a week," said one Egyptian official.

For now, Cairo appears to be drawing the line at withdrawing its ambassador.

"The prompt withdrawal of the ambassador from Tel Aviv is a very strong reaction for now," said another Egyptian official. "Now we're going to see how Israel will respond to the truce proposals."

He added that the few examples of economic cooperation between Egypt and Israel were predominantly carried out by the private sector.

"We don't have much government-to-government cooperation," the official said. "We could, in another symbolic move, act to suspend this cooperation, but this wouldn't really mean much."

Economic ties between the two countries are limited to the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) agreement between Egypt, Israel and the US, which grants Egyptian clothing manufacturers zero-tariff access to the US market as long as their products contain at least 10.5 per cent Israeli input. 

In New York, Washington and other world capitals, Egyptian diplomats are reiterating demands articulated by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in a Thursday phone call to US counterpart Barack Obama: Israel must stop the aggression on Gaza.

"We cannot accept the Israeli argument that the aggression was prompted by rocket attacks [from the Gaza Strip], since these rocket attacks come within the context of the continued Israeli occupation and blockade of Gaza," said Nazih Naggari, deputy spokesman for Egypt's foreign ministry.

"UN Security Council Resolution 1860, which ended Israel's Operation Cast Lead attack on the Gaza Strip in 2009, included clear language on the need to end the occupation, as stipulated in relevant UNSC resolutions 242 and 338," he added.

"The international community cannot just accommodate the Israeli narrative," Naggari concluded. "It must examine the situation within the context of occupation and deprivation."

According to UN figures, the Gaza Strip continues to suffer soaring rates of unemployment and poverty, while public services – including sanitation and education – remain in a state of dilapidation due to Israel's five-year-old siege of the Hamas-governed territory.

Egyptian authorities, meanwhile, stress the need for vigilance at the flashpoint Rafah border crossing.

"We have orders to immediately allow injured Palestinians across the border into Egypt, but this doesn't mean we're opening the border to unlimited traffic," said a security source.

"We're trying to accommodate the people of Gaza, but we also have security concerns in the Sinai Peninsula and we can't let the situation there get out of control," he added.

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