Mideast Summit to Counter Hamas

CAIRO —  At face value, the summit gathering the leaders of Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday, June 25, looks like a routine meeting to revive the stalled peace process, but the focus of the talks is all about how to counter Hamas after taking over the Gaza Strip, analysts said on Saturday, June 23.

"They will try to support Abbas and punish Hamas," Egyptian political analyst Mohamed el-Sayyed Said told Reuters.

Officials statements coming form Cairo and Jordan insist that the summit, which brings together Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, is aimed at boosting the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"The summit aims to boost Palestinian-Israeli relations and create an appropriate climate for a resumption of the peace process," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Saturday.

But analysts big to differ, saying the four leaders are preoccupied with one and only thing: Hamas.

Amr Shubaki, an analyst from Egypt’s Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies, said Cairo wants to get Israel "to make significant and concrete gestures in order to give Abbas’s West Bank model a chance of success."

The Israeli daily Yedioth Aharanoth reported that Egypt had contacted Saudi officials at a request from Olmert to convince them to attend the summit to demonstrate a pan-Arab support for Abbas at the summit.

The Saudis, however, snubbed the Israeli-Egyptian proposal, according to the daily.

Both Israeli and US officials have admitted they wanted to strengthen Abbas’s government in the West Bank and isolate Gaza.

Starting to chock off the impoverished territory after Hamas takeover, Israel cut off on June 17 oil supplies to the strip amid reports about an eminent large-scale ground assault.

One day after Abbas formed an emergency government without rival Hamas, the US and EU decided on June 18 to normalize ties with the new cabinet and resume the frozen direct aid.

Said indicated that support for Abbas would not stop at the political and economic aspects only.

"This support could include military aid for Fatah."

Well-placed sources had told Reuters that US and European officials frequently visited a base in Jordan where Fatah was training troops, known as the Badr Brigades, to reinforce Abbas in any showdown with Hamas.

The US congress has further approved $68 million to Abbas’ presidential guard known as Force 17.

"Fearful Leaders"

Israel’s Channel 2 has dubbed Monday’s meeting a "summit of the fearful leaders," alluding to the deep concerns held by the four leaders vis-à-vis Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip.

The channel’s political commentator said that the four leaders are going to join forces against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, fearing a domino effect of Hamas dominance.

The channel said the four leaders are determined to turn the Gaza Strip into a backbreaking burden for Hamas, hoping that the movement would soon throw in the towel.

Israeli newspapers ran headlines like "Iran Just Five Minutes from Tel Aviv," while Egypt’s state-run dailies and officials were quick to warn against the establishment of an Islamic state alongside the Egyptian borders.

"The Egyptian regime looks at what is happening in Gaza through local eyes," Choubaki, an expert on Islamist movements, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Mubarak said Saturday that the takeover of Gaza by Hamas was a "coup against legitimacy."

"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).

Egypt, a key regional power, has already condemned Hamas and urged all Palestinians to rally behind Abbas as a leader.

In a snub to Hams, Cairo decided last week to move its representative from the coastal strip to Ramallah in the West Bank.

"Dissolving Resistance"

Yedioth Aharanoth, meanwhile, revealed Monday that Abbas had apprised Olmert of a four-point plan to tighten his control over the West Bank and later the Gaza Strip.

Abbas’s plan proposed disarming military wings of the resistance movements, particularly Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and assimilating fighters into the Palestinian Authority’s security force.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council called on Abbas Thursday, June 22, to hold snap polls and dissolve Al-Aqsa Brigades.

Abbas’s plan, according to Aharanoth, declares Hamas as an "illegal terrorist" organization and calls for isolating Hamas in Gaza and urges world leaders to totally boycott its leaders.

The plan further calls for holding early elections in the Palestinian territories in cooperation with Israel, according to the Israeli daily.
 
 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies – June 23, 2007)

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