Egypt warns Israel not to take peace treaty for granted

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, June 30, 2006

An Israeli "war on all fronts" drew a rare warning from Egypt on Thursday that the military escalation jeopardizes a peace treaty with Israel as the Arab League held an emergency session to discuss the crisis. The threat of a regional conflagration rose Wednesday after Israeli warplanes overflew a palace of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose country is host to several Palestinian militant groups. A defiant Syria on Thursday vowed to defend itself against Israeli attacks.

While Cairo has remained mum since the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier in Gaza, the head of the Egyptian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee said Israel should not think the "peace reached with an Arab country can be guaranteed while it continues to perpetrate its crimes and aggressions."

Mustafa al-Fekki, a senior member of President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party, was referring to the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979.

Fekki also voiced fears the flare-up could spill over into Egypt and threaten the country's security.

"The Egyptian Parliament has expressed its concern for Egypt's borders and its peace deal. We respect it but the threats are coming from Israel," said Fekki.

Mufid Shehab, secretary of state for parliamentary affairs, openly accused Israel on Wednesday of having threatened Egypt's stability.

Following an emergency meeting, Arab League ambassadors roundly condemned the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip as "state terrorism," but failed to come up with an immediate diplomatic solution for the conflict.

Hoping to prevent the crisis from spinning out of control, Egyptian officials have been talking directly with Hamas' political leader, Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Damascus, to push him to facilitate the soldier's release.

An aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said both Abbas and Egyptian officials called Assad to ask him to persuade Meshaal to release the soldier, with no results so far. Mubarak also spoke with Abbas and Assad on Thursday, the Egyptian state news agency said.

In talks with Arab leaders Thursday, Meshaal asked them to help put a stop to Israel's "massacres," a statement from his office said, according the Al-Jazeera news network.

"This situation demands Arab officials and the international community take a tough stance," Meshaal's top aide, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told Al-Jazeera. "They should pressure Israel to withdraw from the middle of cities and stop shelling civilians."

Israel has threatened to assassinate the exiled officials, including Meshaal, unless the abducted soldier is freed.

Syrian Premier Mohammad Naji Otri warned that "Syria is capable of defending itself against any aggression."

He also voiced "surprise at the silence of the international community toward all these Israeli acts and daily aggressions ... This is the result of the weakness of the Arabs."

He added that the Damascus-based Hamas leadership could not have had a hand in an abduction that took place in Gaza. Meshaal also denied any role.

"This aggression [the over-flight] represents Israeli piracy that aims at covering up the savage crimes the Israeli occupation forces are committing in the Gaza Strip and occupied Palestinian lands," Otri said.

Russia also criticized the overflight. "Violations of the borders and airspace of other states, in this case Syria, are completely unacceptable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement.

Israel maintained its pressure on Syria Thursday, with Defense Minister Amir Peretz saying: "Regimes that support terrorism are the ones playing with the Palestinian people's destiny."