Egypt's Islamist president vowed to work to stop Israel's campaign against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, calling it an "unacceptable aggression" and ordering his prime minister to travel to the territory in a show of support.
Still, Mohammed Morsi took a low-key tone in his first public comments on the crisis, televised on state TV during a Cabinet session. He expressed support for the Palestinians in Gaza but avoided sharp condemnations of Israel and said had spoken with President Barak Obama about how "peace and security could be achieved for everyone without aggression."
His comments were in contrast to the heavy rhetoric against Israel in the past few days by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement from which Morsi emerged. The head of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, blasted Israel as "the project of the devil" during a speech Thursday at an Islamic conference in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, has faced criticism from opponents at home demanding he take a stronger stand against Israel. But at the same time he is wary of causing frictions with the United States and with a government establishment at home that opposes any moves that would seem to break with Washington or move closer to Gaza's Hamas rulers.
Morsi (L) and Kandil (Photo: EPA)
The sending of the prime minister, Hesham Kandil, was a notable symbolic gesture, the highest level Egyptian official to visit Gaza since Hamas took over the territory in 2007. But it remained largely symbolic, given that the prime minister's authority is dwarfed by the president's in Egypt.
State TV said Kandil would go to Gaza on Friday heading a delegation that would try to meet "the urgent needs" of residents. It did not elaborate.
On Wednesday, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel after Israel launched its campaign of airstrikes and shelling in Gaza, which has since killed 15 Palestinians and wounded more than 100, in retaliation for rocket attacks by Gaza militants against Israel. The recall was a step taken in the past by Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, during major crises with Israel.
On Thursday, the battle escalated. Palestinian terrorists barraged Israel with nearly 150 rockets on Thursday, killing three people and striking the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv. Israel continued its bombardment, saying it has hit more than 230 targets in Gaza.
"The people of Egypt and its government stand with all its capabilities to stop this aggression to prevent the bloodshed and killing of Palestinians," Morsi said in the televised comments, vowing to stand with Gazans "until we stop this aggression on them."
"The Israelis must realize that this aggression we don't accept and it can only lead to instability in the region and hurt security in the region," he said.
Morsi said he spoke before dawn Thursday with Obama. "Our talk centered on how this aggression must stop and not be repeated and how peace and security should be achieved for everyone without aggression."
"I make clear that we desire relations with the US and the world but at the same we completely reject this aggression and refuse such actions."
Obama, who also spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has said the U.S. backs Israel's right to self-defense.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr also spoke with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton late Wednesday, asking for "immediate US intervention to stop the Israeli aggression," the Foreign Ministry said.
Amr told Clinton that if Israel's offensive does not stop, "matters will escalate out of control."
Egypt's ambassador to Israel Atef Sayid al-Ahl arrived back to Egypt on Thursday. On arrival, he said he was back for consultations with the president to Egypt and that the embassy in Tel Aviv was still operating.
Morsi, who was elected in Egypt's first free presidential race in late June, hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political group. Hamas is in effect the Brotherhood's Palestinian chapter.