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Gaza: Egypt Between the devil and the deep blue sea

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Egypt stuck in the middle of Israel-Palestine conflict

By Michael Hughes 

Despite fiery anti-Israeli rhetoric emanating from Cairo on Friday, Egyptian leaders have struck a delicate balance between supporting Hamas and placating Washington, as violence continues to escalate in Gaza.

Although Egypt recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and dispatched Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to Gaza on Friday in a strong public show of support for Hamas, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has had a number of discussions over the past two days with President Barack Obama, who commended Egypt for attempting to mediate a ceasefire.

As the country suffers from economic malaise, Egypt stands to lose $1.5 billion in U.S. aid and $4.5 billion in IMF loans if it fails to abide by its 1979 peace agreement with Israel.

Morsi, however, condemned Israel during Friday prayers in the strongest terms, intimating that Israel would “pay a heavy price” if it continues its aggression against the Palestinians. Morsi was obviously assuaging public sentiment and the deep sense of outrage felt by many Egyptians towards Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

According to Paul McGeough of the Sydney Morning Herald, Morsi doesn’t want to appear like another Hosni Mubarak, whom many Egyptians believe acted as a Western puppet and looked the other way in 2008 as Israel stormed into Gaza. Hamas is hoping the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt will break the status quo by supporting it politically and militarily.

Opposition to Israel may be the only cause binding together Islamists, secularists and even the leadership of Egypt’s Coptic Christian church, according to the New York Times.

But ultraconservative elements within Egypt want Morsi to take an even stronger stance against Israel, including the Al Nour party whose leaders claimed that Morsi’s steps “weren’t enough” and that “additional steps are necessary to deter the perpetrators and to legally pursue the criminals until revenge is exacted against them.”

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are demanding that Egypt sever diplomatic and commercial relations with Israel to set an example for Arabs and Muslims across the world.

Hamas’s leader, Khaled Mashaal, on Thursday applauded Egypt’s reaction to the conflict thus far:

“The popularly elected Egyptian leadership is giving everyone a lesson. The Egyptian leadership has shown that it is taking a new course and adopting a new vision. The era when Israel did what it pleased is over.”

U.S. officials hoped Kandil would be able to strike a truce during his visit to Gaza, yet as soon as the prime minister departed Hamas launched a third long-range rocket at Tel Aviv.

During his visit Kandil condemned Israeli attacks and said Cairo’s ultimate objective was to negotiate an "equitable peace" that establishes a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the U.S. support’s the prime minister’s efforts to deescalate the conflict but does not endorse his public statements.

President Obama also called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reiterate U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Israeli airstrikes targeted Hamas headquarters Saturday morning, as the bombardment moved into a fourth day. At least 29 Palestinians and three Israelis have died since Israel killed Hamas's military chief on Wednesday in retaliation for rocket attacks.

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