Sarah El Deeb
The Associated Press
December 30, 2008 - 1:00am,0,

The Israeli bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip has unleashed outrage across the Middle East — but the anger is being vented as much against Egypt as it is at Israel.

Protesters have attacked Egyptian embassies, accusing Cairo of helping Israel's longtime blockade of the territory and even giving a green light for the offensive — a sign of the gulf between an Arab public and some U.S.-allied governments that dislike Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Demonstrators broke into the Egyptian consulate in the Yemeni city of Aden on Tuesday, trashing the interior, throwing computers out windows and burning the Egyptian flag on the roof. More than 500 protesters massed outside Egypt's embassy in Syria, as others did days earlier in Lebanon.

During a demonstration in the Lebanese city of Sidon this week, people chanted slogans denouncing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as "a pig" and a "collaborator" with Israel.

Mubarak, whose nation is one of only two Arab states to have peace treaties with Israel, on Tuesday accused his critics of seeking "political profit" from the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.

His government vehemently denied backing Israel's attack. And the foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, announced that Egypt was working with Turkey, which has strong ties with Israel, on an initiative to stop the offensive, restore a truce and open Gaza's borders under international supervision.

Egypt already had angered many Arabs by largely closing its Rafah border crossing into Gaza since the Islamic militants of Hamas violently took over the territory in 2007. Rafah is the sole access to Gaza that does not go through Israel, which has imposed a suffocating economic blockade on the coastal strip.

Embarrassing for Egyptian officials, Mubarak met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni only a day before Israel launched its assault, and the foreign minister — though he urged Israel to show restraint — was photographed smiling and shaking hands with her at a news conference.

Now, with television across the region showing the destruction and death in Gaza, Hamas and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah — both allies of Syria and Iran — are stoking the anger against Egypt by accusing it of giving an OK to Israel to end Hamas rule in Gaza.

"We do not accept that the attack on Gaza be announced from the heart of Cairo," Mohammed Nazzal, a Hamas senior leader, shouted on Al-Arabiya television Sunday, referring to the Livni visit.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah charged that Egypt's government was "taking part in the crime" against Palestinians and called on Egyptians to rise up and force the Rafah crossing open.

The anger could severely damage the key role Egypt has played as a mediator between Hamas on one side and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel on the other.

Egypt has been in a tough position because of Hamas's control of Gaza.

It worries Hamas rule is boosting Iran's influence in the region and could fuel Islamic militancy on its own soil. And it is under pressure from Israel, Abbas and the U.S. not to make any concessions that would bolster Hamas.

Yet, Egypt's leaders don't want to be seen as fueling a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Egyptian television gave heavy coverage to several truckloads of medical and other supplies that Egypt sent in through Rafah and 36 wounded Palestinians who were brought out to Egyptian hospitals.

But on Tuesday, Mubarak insisted Egypt would not fully open Rafah unless Abbas' Palestinian Authority controls the crossing and European monitors required under a 2005 agreement are present. Otherwise, he said, opening the crossing would "deepen the breach" between Hamas and Abbas, who Egypt's government calls the legitimate leader of the Palestinians.

Aboul Gheit, the foreign minister, initially seemed to blame Hamas for provoking the Israeli offensive, saying soon after it began Saturday that "those who didn't listen" to warnings carry the responsibility.

Such talk put Egypt in the uncomfortable position of echoing the arguments of Israel, which says it acted to halt Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns. Since then, Egypt has been more vocal in its calls for Israel to stop the bombardment without conditions.

On Tuesday, Aboul Gheit denied that Egypt did not do enough to prevent the Israeli offensive, saying Mubarak warned Livni not to attack Gaza "because it will have repercussions on the region."

But the clamor over Gaza has underlined an increasing divide in the Middle East that pits pro-Western countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia against Syria and Iran and their allied militant groups, Hamas and Hezbollah.

In an unusually vocal criticism for an Egyptian politician, Abdullah Kamal, a member of Egypt's ruling party, denounced Hamas on Monday as a pawn of Iran, saying Iran and Syria are trying to make "Iran as the leader of the region through its militias, whether Hezbollah or Hamas."


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