Mosques throughout Egypt took advantage of Friday prayers to criticize Hamas over the killing of an Egyptian soldier by a sniper belonging to the Islamist group during riots that erupted earlier this week along the country's border with Gaza.
On Tuesday, clashes erupted between members of an aid convoy and Egyptian riot police in El-Arish after the convoy's entry to Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, was delayed due to the nature of some of the materials it was carrying. Dozens of protesters and police were injured.
Seven convoy members were ordered arrested when they return to Egypt.
A sympathy protest along the Gaza-side of the border Wednesday degenerated into stone-throwing scuffles and exchange of fire between Egyptian security and Palestinian gunmen, killing one Egyptian border guard.
London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Saturday that most of the 140,000 mosques operating under the auspices of Egypt's Ministry of Awqaf took part in the verbal onslaught on the Palestinian Islamist group.
An imam at the Ibad el-Rahman Mosque in Cairo called the soldier's death a "tragedy", and, addressing the Palestinian sniper, said, "What will you tell your god tomorrow?"
A cleric said during a televised sermon that Egypt "has sacrificed thousands for the sake of Palestine," apparently referring to Egyptian casualties during its wars with Israel.
According to another imam, Hamas is to blame for the blockade imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza. "Its leaders want to stay in power, even at the cost of their own people's expulsion and starvation," the imam said during a sermon at Cairo's Al-Rahma Mosque. He called the Egyptian soldier a "shahid," adding that the sniper who had killed him would be "sent to hell" if he does not repent.
Injured Palestinian near border (Photo: AFP)
Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Egyptian soldier was killed by accident after he had opened fire on a group of Palestinian youngsters who were demonstrating near the border.
Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram published an editorial titled, "Killing Egyptians won't liberate Palestine", which claimed that the tension along the Egypt-Gaza border "is exactly what Israel wants."
The editorial read, "Did anyone ever imagine that Egyptian blood would be spilled by a Palestinian?
"A Hamas sniper mustered all of his false courage, pointed his weapon and killed his Egyptian, Arab and Muslim brother. Does this make any sense? What crime did (the soldier) commit? He merely protected his country's borders. Was he the one who stole your land? Did he fight you, kill your children and wives and destroy your homes?"
Addressing the residents of Gaza, the columnist wrote, "Egypt does not deserve all of your blind animosity."
Kuwaiti columnist Fouad Al-Hashem wrote, "Hamas is under the impression that it can (hurt) Egypt and its leadership with its 3,000 fighters and the pipes it calls missiles.
"Just as Egypt's fighter squadrons taught Libya's leaders a lesson in 1977 by bombing them, the gang in Gaza (Hamas) demands the same treatment," Al-Hashem wrote in an editorial published by the Al Watan daily.
On Saturday a Cairo airport security official said heated arguments erupted as authorities were attempting to send home some 500 international activists who were part of the aid convoy to Gaza.
The official said Saturday that many activists could pay for their plane tickets and the Foreign Ministry has asked their respective embassies to foot the bill.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media, also said a special plane from Istanbul for Turkish activists was delayed on the tarmac.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit said his country would ban aid convoys from entering its territory.
"The members of the convoy committed hostile acts and violated the law in Egyptian territory," he said.
AP and AFP contributed to the report