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Egyptian PM Visits Gaza, Condemns Israeli Assault

As US seeks to influence new government in Egypt, Israel continues to pummel Gaza

- Common Dreams staff

In a symbolic show of support for Palestinians under assault by the Israeli military and with hopes of brokering a possible ceasefire, Egypt's prime minister, Hisham Kandil, arrived in Gaza on Friday following nearly a week of escalating violence in the battered enclave.

Smoke billows from an Israeli air strike inside the Gaza Strip. Egypt's premier has urged world leaders to stop Israeli "aggression" on Gaza as he visited the Hamas-run enclave and the Jewish state warned of a possible ground offensive. Meanwhile, as Reuters reports, "Thousands gathered in Egyptian cities on Friday to protest against Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as Egypt's president vowed to support [the people of Gaza] in the face of 'blatant aggression'."

"I cannot as an Egyptian, an Arab and a Muslim just sit back and watch the massacres in Gaza," protester Abdel Aziz Nagy, 25, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters.

The possibility of a ground invasion is still very much real, with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeating that all options—including a ground invasion—were still on the table.

Overnight and ahead of Kandil's scheduled visit, the Israeli Defense Force bombarded Gaza with reports of over 150 airstrikes which caused massive explosions in the main cities and sent plumes of black smoke into the sky.

Visiting a hospital in Gaza City, Kandil put the focus squarely on Israeli aggression in recent days that has seen nearly two dozen Palestinians killed, including several children.

"This tragedy cannot pass in silence and the world should take responsibility in stopping this aggression," he said.

"Egypt will not hesitate to intensify its efforts and make sacrifices to stop this aggression and achieve a lasting truce," he told reporters.

Democracy Now! reports: “Nowhere to Run”: Israel Fires Over 500 Strikes in Gaza, Civilian Toll Grows in Humanitarian Crisis:

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On Thursday, the US State Department urged the Egyptian government and other regional powers to do what they could to reign in the violence in Gaza.

"We've ... urged those that have a degree of influence with Hamas, such as Turkey and Egypt and some of our European partners, to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said in a conference call with reporters.

No such pressure has been applied to Israel, however, with the US again siding with what it calls its "essential" partner in the region. Ignoring the fact that the Palestinians living in Gaza are poorly armed and have no tactical advantages given that they live in what many observers call a virtual prison, the US continues to employ the rhetoric that Israel's "right to defend itself" justifies overt offensive military operations in highly-dense civilian populated areas.

Though a short-term cease fire was discussed to give the Egyptian a safe window to visit Gaza, rockets from Gaza by militant factions and airstrikes by the IDF continued.

The Guardian reports:

Rockets fired from Gaza hit several sites in southern Israel on Friday morning, shortly after Kandil arrived in the Palestinian enclave. The Israeli air force responded with an attack on the house of Hamas's commander for southern Gaza, a Hamas source told Reuters.

Medics said the air strike killed two people, one of them a child, raising the Palestinian death toll since Wednesday to 21. Three Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday. [...]

Until Friday, Israeli air strikes had killed 19 Palestinians, including seven militants and 12 civilians, among them six children and a pregnant woman.

Reuters adds:

Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, viewed by Hamas as a protector, led a chorus of denunciation of the Israeli strikes by allies of the Palestinians.

Morsi faces domestic pressure to act tough. But Egypt gets $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid and looks to Washington for help with its ailing economy, constraining Morsi despite his need to show Egyptians that his policies differ from those of his U.S.-backed predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday urged Egypt to do more to help the Palestinians.

"We call upon the brothers in Egypt to take the measures that will deter this enemy," the Hamas prime minister said.

The appeal poses a test of Morsi's commitment to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which the West views as the bedrock of Middle East peace.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which brought Morsi to power in an election after the downfall of pro-Western Hosni Mubarak, has called for a "Day of Rage" in Arab capitals on Friday. The Brotherhood is seen as the spiritual mentor of Hamas.

Putting the relationship between US President Barack Obama, Morsi, and the peace accord with Israel in deeper context, The Guardian framed it this way in a report on Thursday:

Morsi has said Egypt will continue to respect the peace accords but has also said Israel has not fulfilled its obligations – a claim that has caused concern in Washington that the long term stability of the agreement may be undermined.

In criticising the US for taking sides with Israel against the Palestinians, the Egyptian leader singled out Washington's "failure" to ensure Israel's compliance with what he said is a requirement in the Camp David agreement for it withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories.

"As long as peace and justice are not fulfilled for the Palestinians, then the treaty remains unfulfilled," he told the New York Times in September.

The Egyptian president has also been strongly critical of Obama's failure to live up to the president's early promise of a shift in US policy in the Middle East and warned that it continues to foster anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.

Obama has contributed to the cooling of the relationship after the close ties between the Mubarak regime and the US by saying that he regards the present Egyptian administration as neither an ally nor an enemy.

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