Egypt envoy holds truce talks with Palestinian factions

GAZA CITY (AFP) — A senior Egyptian envoy told the Palestinian parliament Tuesday that Cairo would work “hand in hand” with the Palestinians for an end to Israel’s occupation of all territory seized in 1967.
“I have the pleasure of being with you to convey the congratulations of President (Hosni) Mubarak and his commitment that we stay hand in hand with you until all Palestinian territory, in the West Bank and as well as Gaza, is liberated,” Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, said.

He was addressing Palestinian MPs on behalf of Mubarak during a visit aimed at shoring up a de facto Palestinian truce and discussing border crossings after Israel’s landmark pullout from the Gaza Strip.

He said Egypt supported Palestinian efforts towards “the complete and total freedom of land occupied in 1967 to pave the way to the creation of a Palestinian state that will take its place in the Arab nation.”

“Our security cannot be guaranteed while you are being threatened. We cannot rejoice while you suffer. We will not be silent until you have recovered your legitimate rights,” he added.

Suleiman also said Egypt would work together with the Palestinians “to bring an end to the suffering which has lasted for so long” and in order to assure the “territorial and human links” between Gaza and neighbouring Egypt.

The speech came after Suleiman met leaders of the main Palestinian groups, the mainstream Fateh faction as well as Islamist movement Hamas and its smaller rival, for talks on the truce which he helped broker.

All factions stressed the need for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, including the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, as soldiers prepare to leave the Palestinian territory after a 38-year occupation.

Israel wants to continue to control the passage of people and goods into Gaza, while the Palestinian Authority wants control in partnership with Egypt.

“We cannot accept an Israeli presence because keeping the Israelis means keeping the occupation,” Abdallah Franji, a member of Fateh’s central committee told AFP.

“Hamas does not want an [Israeli military] redeployment but a total withdrawal and full sovereignty,” said Zahar, saying his faction would reserve the right to retaliate to any Israeli attack in the Palestinian territories.

“We have emerged victors in this battle and any aggression against the Palestinian people, wherever it takes place, will be responded to.”

“We will not see it as a complete withdrawal should a single Israeli soldier remain at the crossing points,” said Nafez Azzam, an Islamic Jihad leader.

Stressing that any truce should be “reciprocal” with Israel, he also said that “Israeli aggressions would incite the Palestinian people to respond.”

While the truce agreed in Cairo in March has largely held, a suicide bombing on Sunday in southern Israel underlined its fragility.

That attack was jointly claimed by Jihad and Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Fateh, after five of their followers were shot dead by Israeli troops in a botched arrest operation last Wednesday.

Suleiman is expected to hold talks on Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz focusing on the future of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

The Israeli parliament is expected to approve an agreement on Wednesday for some 750 Egyptian border guards to take control of the border after the pullout of the last Israeli soldiers from Gaza.

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