Egypt FM: Hamas must stop rockets in any truce
By LEE KEATH,Associated Press Writer AP - Friday, January 2
CAIRO, Egypt - Egypt's foreign minister said Thursday that Hamas must ensure rocket fire stops in any truce deal to halt Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip, criticizing the Palestinian militants for giving Israel an excuse to launch the bombardment.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit's comments came as Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Egypt's president, part of a tour by the Turkish leader to work out an Egyptian-Turkish initiative to end the violence.
The initiative calls for a halt to Israel's assault, a return to a Hamas-Israel truce and an international mechanism to ensure the opening of Gaza's border crossings.
The Turkish leader, speaking in a news conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik after meeting with Hosni Mubarak, called on Israel to halt its attacks and on Hamas to stop firing rockets on Israel.
Erdogan said there must be a cease-fire now before it is too late.
The Turkish leader met a day earlier with Syrian President Bashar Assad and was expected to be in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Erdogan also said he sent a representative to meet Hamas leaders, but did not elaborate.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas, told The Associated Press that Hamas officials met with Erdogan's representative Thursday in Damascus, Syria to discuss Gaza. Marzouk also emphasized that Hamas will not agree to a cease-fire that doesn't include lifting the siege of Gaza and opening the border crossings.
The Egyptian foreign minister said any eventual truce agreement should include a mechanism to oversee "that everything proceeds without one side causing problems with the other." He told journalists that the mechanism could involve "international forces or Arab forces or just observers."
It was not clear whether the monitors proposed by Aboul Gheit would be to ensure the truce or be limited to observing border crossings, one of the central issues in the dispute over Gaza because of Israeli fears of smuggling of weapons.Israeli officials have said they want international monitors to ensure compliance with any truce.
Aboul Gheit said Israel must immediately stop its offensive, but he insisted Hamas must commit to enforcing a halt to rockets. "We expect the Palestinian side to say that if a cease-fire is announced, we'll stop firing rockets," he said, although he warned that "some loose group can decide to continue firing rockets and make it difficult to have a cease-fire."
He criticized Hamas, saying Egypt had seen "the signals that Israel was determined to strike Hamas in Gaza for the past three months. They practically wrote it in the sky."
"Unfortunately, they (Hamas) served Israel the opportunity on a golden platter to hit Gaza," he said.
U.S. allied governments such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which have been critical of Hamas, are worried its control of the Gaza Strip gives their regional rival Iran, which has supported Hamas, a foothold in the region.
The Israeli onslaught, which has killed some 400 Palestinians since last Saturday, had hiked tempers between pro-U.S. countries on one side and Hamas' supporters, Syria and Iran, on the other.
Egypt in particular has come under harsh criticism for not opening up the Rafah crossing, the only access to Gaza that does not go through Israel. Its opponents accuse Egypt of joining Israel in blockading the territory in an attempt to remove Hamas, which took control in the tiny coastal strip in 2007 in fierce battles with loyalists of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Aboul Gheit repeated Egypt's argument that it cannot open Rafah unless Abbas' Palestinian Authority _ which runs the West Bank _ controls the crossing and international monitors are present. Egypt has opened Rafah during the Israeli attacks to allow some Palestinian wounded and medical supplies in and out of Gaza.
He said Hamas wants Rafah opened permanently because it would represent implicit Egyptian recognition of the militant group's control of Gaza. "Of course this is something we cannot do," Aboul Gheit said, because it would undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and consecrate the split between Gaza and the West Bank.
Aboul Gheit said Egypt had proposed that Arab foreign ministers who gathered in Cairo Wednesday request Hamas allow Palestinian Authority control of Rafah. But Syria rejected the proposal, he said.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.
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