Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday slammed what he called Israel’s "savage aggression" on the Gaza Strip, and said its "bloodstained hands" were stirring feelings of rage among Arabs.
Mubarak however said that Egypt will keep its border crossings with Gaza closed until his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas regains authority over the territory and a 2005 deal governing their operation is respected.
"We in Egypt are not going to contribute to perpetuating the rift (between Abbas and Gaza’s Hamas rulers) by opening the Rafah crossing in the absence of the Palestinian Authority and EU observers in violation of the 2005 deal" between Abbas and Israel, Mubarak said in a televised speech.
The 2005 accord, which coincided with Israel’s withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza, provided for EU observers to monitor the border and operate surveillance cameras to allow Israel to keep an eye on comings and goings.
The deal fell into abeyance when Hamas seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas in June last year.
Egypt has come in for strong criticism from the Islamists and their sympathizers around the Muslim world for not fully opening its border with Gaza to the passage of both people and goods.
It has allowed some Gazans wounded in Israel’s devastating four-day-old offensive against the territory to leave for treatment and allowed some medical supplies in.
But Egyptian police also fired warning shots in the air to prevent large numbers of civilians fleeing Gaza.
Mubarak held talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni just two days before the start of the offensive, but Mubarak insisted that he totally opposed the Israeli operation.
"We say to Israel that we reject and condemn its assaults which must cease immediately," he said.
"We say to our Palestinian brothers: restore your unity. We warned you several times that any refusal to renew the truce would push Israel to attack Gaza."
He was referring to a six-month truce between Israel and Hamas which Egypt brokered and which expired on December 19.
He hit out at Arab politicians like Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah who have slammed his government’s stance and called on the Egyptian people to take to the streets to change it.
"We say to those who are trying to make political capital out of the plight of the Palestinian people that Palestinian blood has a price," he said.
"We say loud and clear that Egypt is above such pettiness and will not allow anyone to extend their influence over its affairs."
Reluctant to react militarily to Israel’s Gaza onslaught, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah is fomenting popular anger against Egypt and other Arab states he accuses of complicity in a U.S.-backed drive to crush Hamas.
Nasrallah’s call on Sunday for the Egyptian people and armed forces to compel their leaders to open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt amounted to an appeal for popular unrest and mutiny — and has drawn a fierce response from Cairo.
"You are a man who used to enjoy respect, but you have insulted the Egyptian people," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Monday, addressing the Hezbollah leader.
Mubarak’s meeting with Livni prior the Israeli offensive has sparked charges of collusion that have seen Egyptian diplomatic missions attacked in both Beirut and Yemen.
Lebanon, meanwhile, has tightened security around the Egyptian embassy in Beirut. The roads leading to the building have been blocked and the area surrounded by cement blocks and barbed wire.
A security official told AFP on condition of anonymity the measures were "preventative" in case of future protests in the area.
Angry Yemeni protesters on Tuesday stormed the Egyptian consulate in the southern city of Aden on Tuesday, witnesses said.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said the incident at the consulate was over and lasted 15 minutes.
One witness said the protesters burned the Egyptian flag and hoisted a Palestinian banner on top of building.
"Some of the protesters were able to enter the consulate and destroyed some property and papers," another witness said, adding that some of the protestors were Egyptian.
The official Yemeni news agency said 20 Arabs, including some Sudanese, Iraqis and Palestinians, were arrested "for attempting to enter the consulate." It did not give details.
The crisis over Gaza is the most serious foreign policy challenge the Egyptian government has faced for years because it is the only Arab country that borders Gaza.
(News agencies via Alarabiya.net)