Photo: Yaron Brenner
Egyptian ambassador said attack "was small"
Photo: Yaron Brenner
Relatives bury victims of drive-by terror attack

'Attack too small to stop calm'

Egypt's ambassador to Israel, Assam Ibrahim, does not frequently address the Israeli public directly; describes terror attack as 'too small to destroy process of calm' in the region

Egypt's ambassador to Israel, Assam Ibrahim, does not frequently address the Israeli public directly. Six months into his post, Ibrahim resides in a Herziliya villa, and has rarely given interviews to the Israeli press.


Hours after the drive-by terror attack in Gush Etzion, in which three Israelis were murdered, an attack which brought terrorism back into our life, and placed the calming down period, and the PA's ability to create secure conditions in serious doubt, Ibrahim's faith in regional calm is unshaken. 


In an interview with Ynet, Ibrahim expressed optimism, saying, "with all due respect, a small attack" wouldn't endanger moves towards creating calm in the region.


He rejected accusations in Israel that the Egyptians abandoned the Gaza- Egypt border for a number of days, allowing unrestricted movement, saying: "It's natural that people who haven't met with their families for dozens of years will break though in the way they did. The Jews, who suffered in the past, can understand the needs of these people who were under occupation."


Mr. Ambassador, we were witness to terror attacks resulting in Israelis being killed, and a Palestinian wanted figure being killed in Jenin. Is the calm which Egypt has worked for collapsing, or can it be saved?


"There's no reason to talk about the saving the calm, because it's not crashing. Negative incidents have happened on both sides. It's not right that either side uses violence again. Deadly shootings with casualties, injuries and blood should not be used. It will create a (negative) impression on the international community, and the Arab, and the Israeli public opinions, it will create the illusion that the peace process is in danger, or even crashing. The attack that took place was – with all due respect to everyone affected, and certainly to anyone whose blood was spilt and who lost their life – still is a small attack. I don't believe it will be the last attack, it was a big mistake, but the process is not endangered. Both sides need to give logic and negotiations a chance. The Palestinians must understand that another attack won't change the Middle East, and Israel must understand that shooting one wanted Palestinian or another won't solve the conflict."


Will Egypt now try and coordinate a ceasefire among Palestinian factions, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad?


"We are in daily contact with them – and I emphasize daily contact - with the Palestinian Authority and all the organizations, with the entire Palestinian public sectors in the world. We will not lose our hope and we won't despair as we have not despaired in the past.


A Palestinian understanding of the appropriate way to move forward to obtain their rights is needed. At the same time, we are talking with our Israeli neighbors and making it clear that their violent operations create provocations, and heat things up. They invite desperate elements to conduct such operations, and then the circle goes round and round, which does not suit any of the sides."


Has Egypt changed its preparations on the Egypt-Gaza border, in Rafiah, after Israel's harsh criticisms about the open border in the first few days (after the disengagement?)


There is always criticism in Israel and there is always a lack of satisfaction. The nation in Israel is critical in a constant way, it criticizes itself, its government, and its press. The Israeli people thinks dynamically, it searches for mistakes and its mind works – that's why it doesn't stop criticizing and worrying and this doesn't bother me. We must remember that we are talking about a period which less than a month old, and the fact is that 700 (Egyptian) soldiers are guarding a 14 kilometer border. What has happened is a sudden evacuation that has caused a vacuum. It's natural that a vacuum is filled at first with anarchy. It's natural that people who have not met with their families in dozens of years will break through in the way that they did. And the Jews, who have suffered in the past, can understand these people's needs, who have been under occupation for 30 years."


"The matter has now returned to proportion and contacts are continuing so that the Palestinian in Gaza will have the right conditions: They'll have an airport, a seaport, contact with Egypt, with the West Bank, and with Israel, and this is a good precedent for good neighborly relations. What has happened in Gaza, with all its importance – and I am aware of the suffering that the Israeli society has gone though, the political and spiritual difficulties that the Israeli public suffered in order to go through with this withdrawal – but it is till half a step, albeit in the right direction. Every withdrawal is positive and every occupation is negative, and if Israel wants security and hopes for a peace-seeking Palestinian state, the second half step must be taken, in order to know if the whole step was correct."


In Israel, figures such as Knesset Committee Chairman Yuval Shteinitz have criticized your border activities and said they are not enough.


"I don't want to address specific people and committees."


Mr. Ambassador, the head of the IDF's Intelligence Corps has reported on the presence of al-Qaeda in Sinai. He said that the organization has set up a real base there.


"The Head of Intelligence has the right to say what he wants as we have the right to express our view. I'm not going to put on the hat of Egyptian security officials and discuss their work against cells, which could be in Sinai, and who have caused attacks that we saw in Taba and in Sharm el-Sheikh. There is a problem, and the security forces are dealing with it, but I'm not an expert on the details, and I don't know if al-Qaeda are there or not. These details are being left to our security people, but up to now I haven't heard that al-Qaeda have a branch in Sinai."


Are you calling on Israelis to return to holidaying in Sinai? Can they do this safely?


"To visit is a personal matter, that is up to the citizen himself. Israel is a democracy and it doesn't prevent its citizens from going. I myself, in my holiday time, go to Sinai and to Aswan. There are problems from time to time, but show me one country in the world that has not fallen victim to the wave of attacks. The question is, how to deal with this problem. Egypt is working to solve the problem. I'm not telling Israelis not to visit, and I wish a pleasant holiday to those who visit Cairo, Sinai, and Aswan. The last warnings proved to be false, it should be remembered.


How would you classify Israeli – Egyptian relations today?


"Relations are good. In recent months since the intifada started to calm down, and since the Sharm el-Sheikh understanding, we reestablished full diplomatic relations. There are economic deals, gas deals, and other arrangements, and Israelis now come to Cairo and lecture in front of hundreds of people – that means there is an improvement. Relations are still not fully open the way peace seekers would want to see. But they developing securely.


When will President Mubarak come to visit Israel?


"In principle there is nothing to prevent the president from visiting Israel. It's a matter of timing, and the right conditions for both sides, as well as the message behind the visit. The president is sensitive to public opinion, and I repeat: The Egyptians don't have a direct problem with Israel. There is the Palestinian problem which is central to the Egyptian public opinion, and when relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians move away from violence… the Egyptian people will see this and calm down, and relations will improve. When this happens, the president will be first to feel the momentum that will allow a visit and will contribute to the success of the process."


פרסום ראשון: 10.17.05, 19:16
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