- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2008

UPDATED:

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — Egypt’s president struck back against critics throughout the region Tuesday and said he would not fully open the crossing into the Gaza Strip unless the Palestinian Authority was in control of the border to avoid giving more power to Hamas.

In the latest sign of the animosity towards the Egyptians, hundreds of protesters in the Yemeni city of Aden stormed the Egyptian consulate, threw computers out the window and set fire to the flag on the roof before being driven out by security.

Egypt has come under heavy criticism in the Arab world over its refusal during the past year to open the Rafah crossing, which has helped complete an Israeli blockade of the territory. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also visited Egypt just before the assault, leading many to accuse Egypt of giving a green light to the attack.

But Mubarak said opening the border would only increase the divide between the Hamas-controlled strip and the West Bank, which is run by Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.

“We will not deepen the division and that breach (among the Palestinians) by opening Rafah border crossing in the absence of the Palestinian Authority and the European Union monitors,” Mubarak said, referring to the 2005 agreement over the border.

Egypt resists dealing with the Islamic militant Hamas because it opposes the group’s 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip and fears a spillover of Hamas’ militant influence.

Instead, it insists Abbas is the legitimate Palestinian leader and opening the border would only increase the separation between the two halves of the Palestinian territory.

Protests across the region have targeted Egypt. On Sunday Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the Egyptian government was “taking part in the crime” against Palestinians and called on Egyptians to rise up and force open the crossing.

Nasrallah’s comments have been strongly condemned by Egypt’s state-owned press, and Mubarak described them as political posturing at the expense of the Palestinian people.

Mubarak added that he had demanded Israel “stop the aggression” against the Palestinians, and had opened the crossing to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza and Palestinian wounded into Egypt.

In the past two days several truckloads of medical supplies have entered Gaza from Egypt, and 36 Palestinians have been admitted to Egyptian hospitals.

Mohammed Fayez Arafat, a Palestinian Authority representative on the Egyptian side in Rafah, said another 35 Palestinian wounded were expected Tuesday.

“Hamas has been sending over groups of wounded but regrettably it has taken them a long time to start the process,” he said, explaining the small number of wounded transferred so far.

Among those transferred into Egypt included Hidaya Hassan al-Ghoul, a women in her mid-20s with two broken legs sustained when her home was knocked down by an Israeli shell and 9-year-old Mohammed Tariq Abdallah, who had burns across 35 percent of his body.

However, the border was abruptly reclosed by Egyptian security late in the afternoon, and no reason was immediately available.

Protesters took to the streets in Egypt. About 4,000 students of Assiut University in Assiut about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Cairo, demonstrated against Israel and carried placards defending the Egyptian government against accusations it was not doing enough to help the Palestinians.

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood organized two demonstrations in nearby towns of Abnoub and al-Qousiya during which they shouted allegations against Arab rulers, accusing them of being agents to America and Israel because they did not intervene to help the Palestinians.

But in a sign that some Arab states are worried over Gaza protests spiralling outside their control, Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki was quoted by the newspaper al-Riyadh as saying the kingdom would not allow demonstrations against Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Press Agency quoted Brig. Gen. kitab al-Uteibi, the director general of the armed forces medical services department, as saying his department sent several planes to el-Arish in northern Egypt to airlift injured Palestinians to hospitals in Saudi Arabia.

Associated Press writers Omar Sinan in Rafah, Egypt; Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Egypt; and Ahmed al-Haj in San’a, Yemen.

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