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Israeli raids deepen rift between Arabs
Updated: 2008-12-29 11:01

CAIRO - Deadly Israeli raids on Gaza have deepened the divide in the Arab world between Islamists with popular appeal and governments widely seen as collaborating with Israel and the United States.

Especially in Egypt the battle lines are clearer than ever, as members of the ruling party give Egypt's own Islamists, allies of the Palestinian movement Hamas, advice along the lines of "If you don't like it in Egypt, you can go to Gaza".

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Hussein Megawir, a pro-government Egyptian member of parliament, said in a debate on Gaza on Saturday: "There is an Iranian plan, with Hamas and some of the (Muslim) Brotherhood, to stir up trouble in Palestine and Egypt."

The Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group with one fifth of the seats in parliament, is in close alliance with Hamas, which began as a Brotherhood offshoot.

In its turn, the Brotherhood says Arabs and Muslims should rise up against "the despicable silence and connivance on the part of most Arab and Islamic regimes and governments".

In public statements on the Israeli raids, the Egyptian government and its Palestinian allies in the Fatah movement have come close to saying that Hamas is mainly to blame for the raids, which in two days have killed more than 270 people.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday that Egypt sent warnings about the possibility of an Israeli offensive and those who ignored the warnings were responsible for the consequences.

In Cairo on Sunday, Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas echoed the theme.

"We talked to them (Hamas) and we told them 'please, we ask you, do not end the truce. Let the truce continue and not stop' so that we could have avoided what happened," he said.

Egyptian political commentator Hassan Nafaa, writing in the independent Al Masry Al Yom, said: "Hamas looks like the common enemy of Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

Israel and United States have succeeded in convincing the Egyptian and Saudi governments that "the Shi'ite tide" led by Iran is the greatest threat to the whole region, he said.

In contrast with the conservative Arabs blaming Hamas, in many parts of the Arab world demonstrators and others have criticised Arab governments for passivity towards the raids.

Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, who likes to play the role of conscience of the Arab nation, joined in the criticism of Arab leaders on Sunday.

"These characters should be ashamed of themselves. They are trading on the name of the Palestinian cause with their cowardly, weak and defeatist stands," he said.

At a protest in Baghdad, Palestinian ambassador Galil al-Qasus said: "We were waiting for action from the Arab leaders, but now we do not want anything from them...We appealed to Arab leaders for almost 60 years, but all these efforts were in vain."

Protesters and opposition groups have demanded that Egypt and Jordan break off relations with the Jewish state and that Egypt throw open its border with Gaza, ending the blockade imposed on the coastal strip for much of the time since Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006.

But Egypt has repeatedly ignored public pressure to expel the Israeli ambassador and its policy on the border with Gaza is driven by fear that Israel will dump the whole Gaza morass in its lap for many years to come, diplomats say.

The two Arab camps split along much the same lines as they have for the past few years -- the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority on one side, Hamas, Syria, the Lebanese movement Hezbollah and a wide range of Islamists, leftists and Arab nationalists on the other.

Iran, non-Arab and Shi'ite Muslim, lurks on the sidelines as an ally of those who favour resistance to Israel and U.S. plans.

The same alliances took sides on the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. Analysts said the Arab conservatives initially hoped that conflict would damage Hezbollah but soon changed tack when the Israeli army failed to deliver a quick victory and Hezbollah proved it could survive.

The Arab League, where the conservative governments are dominant, has already postponed a ministerial meeting to take a common position on the crisis in Gaza and a proposal to hold an Arab summit is meeting some resistance, diplomats said.

Judging by past summits, Arab heads of state are unlikely to fulfil popular aspirations, especially if that would bring them into conflict with Israel and Washington.