Egypt says Hamas takeover of Gaza was a coup

1271.jpgCAIRO (Reuters) – The bloody takeover of Gaza by Hamas was a “coup against legitimacy,” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Saturday, two days before he hosts a regional summit seen as an attempt to isolate the Islamist group.Egypt, a key regional power, has already condemned Hamas for crushing the more secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Gaza Strip. It has urged all Palestinians to rally behind him as a leader.

In a snub to the Islamist group, Cairo decided last week to move its representative from the coastal strip to Ramallah in the West Bank, where Fatah has retained sway.

“We follow closely the consequences of the coup against the Palestinian legitimacy (in Gaza) and the damages that it has caused to the Palestinian people,” Mubarak told senior lawmakers from his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

“We regret shedding Palestinian blood by Palestinian hands in clashes that crossed all the red lines,” he said.

Egypt confirmed on Thursday it would host a four-way summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday, bringing together Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Mubarak.

Since Hamas seized control of Gaza last week, Western powers and Israel have scrambled to bolster Abbas, who has ruled out talks with the Islamist group, by lifting economic sanctions on Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel, which withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, is letting nothing but essential humanitarian supplies through its security cordon around the coastal enclave.

Arab analysts and commentators say the talks in Sharm el-Sheikh would seek to encourage Abbas to maintain his hard-line stance against Hamas in a bid to isolate the Islamist group.

“They will try to support Abbas and punish Hamas,” said political analyst Mohamed el-Sayyed Said. “This support could include military aid for Fatah.”

He said Egypt felt “deeply insulted” that the Hamas takeover came while Cairo was preparing to host talks among various Palestinian factions in June.

Egypt, which enjoys strong ties with Fatah, swiftly welcomed Abbas’ decision to appoint an emergency cabinet after firing the national unity government led by Ismail Hahiyeh of Hamas. Haniyeh said he would go on working as prime minister.

Analysts also say Cairo cannot tolerate an “Islamist mini-state” on its eastern border at a time when the government is cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s strongest opposition group.

“The Egyptian regime looks at what is happening in Gaza through local eyes,” said Amr El-Choubaki, an expert on Islamist movements.

“This is a mistake because there are no prospects for a Palestinian state in Gaza … and the price that Egypt has paid was losing its position as a mediator between Hamas and Fatah.”

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