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Mubarak assails Hamas takeover in Gaza as coup

Egypt's president sees a threat to prospects for a unified Palestinian state.

June 24, 2007|Jeffrey Fleishman | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday condemned the recent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip as a coup that threatens hopes for a single Palestinian state.

Speaking before lawmakers in Cairo, Mubarak said Egypt supported Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Fatah party whose Gaza security forces were routed by Hamas 10 days ago. The split has left a battered political landscape in which the Islamist group controls Gaza and the more moderate Fatah reigns over the West Bank.

"We have been following closely the repercussions of the coup over Palestinian legitimacy in Gaza and its grave setbacks on the Palestinian people," Mubarak said in his first public comments on the Hamas military victory. "We feel sad for the shedding of the blood of Palestinians by Palestinian hands, in a fighting that has crossed all red lines ... leading up to division of its occupied territories."

Mubarak's comments came two days before he is to play host at a summit at the Red Sea resort in Sharm el Sheik with Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jordan's King Abdullah II. Cairo wants to bolster Abbas' role in the Middle East peace process while attempting to keep Hamas' militant fervor from spreading across the border to rouse Egypt's banned -- though popular -- Islamic party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Olmert is expected to offer Abbas financial pledges that include the release of $500 million to $600 million in tax revenue Israel froze after Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2006. Along with growing Arab and Western pressure, the aid to Fatah would further isolate Hamas and the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza. Israel has said it will allow only humanitarian shipments to enter the seaside territory.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority government disbanded by Abbas after the Gaza fighting, called for talks between Hamas and Fatah. Abbas' office turned down the request. The atmosphere has been strained by recriminations: Abbas has charged Hamas with attempted assassination, and Haniyeh has portrayed Fatah as a tool of the United States and Israel to destroy his party's legitimate political gains.

"The way out of the current situation is launching a Palestinian dialogue without preconditions," Haniyeh told Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by phone, according to Hamas. Haniyeh added that the talks should be held "on the basis of no loser and no winner, and on the basis of no harm to anyone, and on the basis of a national unity government," Hamas said.

Israeli forces Saturday continued to target Hamas militants in the West Bank. Saleh Aruri, a top Hamas activist who was released from prison in March, was arrested at his house north of Ramallah in a predawn raid, according to Israeli media reports.

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