Egypt Comes Under Fire for Gaza Assaults

As the Israeli offensive on Gaza continues, Egypt faces difficult challenges.

December 31, 2008, 1:59 PM

JERUSALEM, Dec. 31, 2008 — -- Since the beginning of the Israeli attack on Gaza five days ago, which is believed to have killed at least 390 Palestinians, Egypt has come under enormous criticism in the region.

The pictures of the disastrous aftermath of the ongoing Israeli onslaught on Gaza has unleashed not only anger toward Israel but outrage against Egypt.

Many in the Arab world have accused the Egyptian government of complicity in the Israeli assaults. Waving banners in opposition, protesters across the region have accused Egypt of helping Israel in its offensive in the Gaza Strip by not reopening the Rafah border crossing, which is the only gateway connecting the area to the outside world.

Egypt closed the Rafah border when Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 because of the absence of international observers and representatives of the Palestinian authority that are required under an agreement with the European Union.

Thousands of protesters throughout the Arab region have condemned Egypt for closing the border and called on the Egyptian government to open it and to allow medical equipment into Gaza.

In Beirut, Sanaa and Damascus, thousands of furious demonstrators have protested in front of the Egyptian embassies since the airstrikes against Gaza began. They held banners condemning Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and accusing him and his government of collaborating with Israel.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, outraged by the images of Israeli attacks on Gaza carried live by various television channels, protesters marched in the streets of Cairo calling on their government to expel the Israeli ambassador and to cut all diplomatic ties with Israel.

Many analysts in the Arab region believe that the campaign against Egypt is orchestrated by the Iranian-backed Hamas and Hezbollah in an attempt to undermine Egypt's role in the Arab world.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah have issued harsh condemnations of the Egyptian government, accusing it of being complicit in an Israeli military assault aimed at ending Hamas rule in Gaza. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, whose group was engaged in a bloody war with Israel in 2006, said Egypt was "taking part in the crime against the Palestinians."

The Egyptian government is under pressure from the tens of thousands of furious Egyptian protestors demanding that it cut its ties with Israel, from the thousands of angry Arab demonstrators calling on Egypt to open the Rafah border for an indefinite period of time and also from the United States and Israel, which are asking it not to yield to the street pressure.

Egypt Blames Hamas

Mubarak Tuesday insisted Egypt would not open the Rafah border unless Palestinian president (and Hamas opponent) Mahmoud Abbas takes control of the crossing.

The Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit blamed Hamas for the deterioration of the situation in Gaza. Pointing out Iran's strong influence on Hamas and its strengthening role in the region, a member of the Egyptian ruling party, Abdallah Kamal, said, "Hamas is a pawn of Iran. Syria and Iran seek to announce Iran as the leader of the region through its militias whether Hezballoh or Hamas."

Arab outrage against the U.S.-backed Egyptian government is mounting day after day. The ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza is inflaming more and more anger against Mubarak and his regime.

It remains to be seen how this offensive against Hamas will affect the stability of a regime confronting one of the most difficult challenges it has yet faced.

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