Tuesday

3rd May 2016

EU and US thank Egypt for Gaza truce

  • Morsi (r) with Ashton before the Gaza conflict erupted (Photo: European External Action Service)

EU and US statements after one week of Gaza hostilities have underlined the new status of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region.

British foreign minister William Hague and French President Francois Hollande - speaking for the two former colonial powers in the Middle East - joined the US on Wednesday (21 November) in singling out Egypt's role in ending the fighting.

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"I urge all sides to uphold their commitments and pay tribute to President Morsi and the Egyptian government for their intensive efforts and the leadership they have shown," Hague said, referring to Egypt's recently-installed leader Mohamed Morsi, a prominent figure in the brotherhood movement.

Speaking for the EU as a whole, foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton noted: "I commend in particular the efforts of Egypt and all those who engaged in mediating between the parties to secure this ceasefire."

For her part, US secretary of state Hilary Clinton, told press alongside Morsi's foreign minister in Cairo the same day: "I want to thank President Morsi for his personal leadership to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence. This is a critical moment for the region."

The ceasefire agreement, which was brokered by Hamas and Israeli delegates in Cairo over the past few days, includes an Israeli pledge to lift its seven-year-long blockade on the Gaza strip.

"Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire," the text says.

The deal, if implemented, would mark a victory for the militant Palestinian group.

Both sides on Wednesday said the fighting - which claimed 160 Palestinian and five Israeli lives - did them good.

Hamas said Israel backed down despite the fact its rockets hit the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israeli military sources said they got away with pounding their old adversary despite the new Islamist government in Egypt.

Commentators also noted that the crisis made Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas look like a marginal player just one week before he aims to call a UN vote on upgrading Palestine's international status.

But the real winner could be the Muslim Brotherhood itself.

A broad Arab movement with roots in Yemen and important offshoots in Algeria, Egypt, the Gulf states, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Syria and Tunisia, it was for decades kept down by Israeli and US intelligence and by pro-Western dictators as a threat to stability.

It kept a low profile, but built street-level backing in part by providing welfare support, before bursting out on the political scene in post-Arab-Spring elections.

On Monday, US President Barack Obama spent almost one hour on the phone with Morsi during the middle of the night on a trip to Asia in a bid to broker the Gaza truce.

"The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were - here's the state of play, here are the issues we're concerned about ... This was somebody focused on solving problems," a White House official told the Washington Post.

"The way we've been able to work with Morsi ... indicates we could be a partner on a broader set of issues going forward," another US official said.

"May God keep him in the presidency," Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, which has no direct contacts with EU or US officials because both parties designate it as a terrorist entity, noted.

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