Anyone hoping that Friday morning’s visit to Gaza City by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil might ease the growing conflict between Israel and Hamas was sorely disappointed.
In a brief two-hour trip, Kandil made no public mention of a cease-fire or ending the violence that has so far killed 23 people on both sides.
Instead, he said Egypt’s loyalty rested squarely with Gaza’s people.
“The cause of Palestinians is the cause of all Arabs and Muslims,”’ he said during a visit to Shifa Hospital. “Palestinians are heroes.”
His presence failed to bring even a temporary lull in the fighting. Though Israel had agreed to halt airstrikes during the visit if militants also held their fire, rockets from Gaza struck Israeli towns almost as soon as Kandil arrived through the Rafah crossing.
Israel immediately struck back, killing at least two militants in Jabalia, north of Gaza City.
Choking up after visiting the wounded at the hospital, Kandil held up a sleeve that he said was stained with the blood of one of those wounded Friday.
“That’s Palestinian blood on Egyptian hands,” said Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, thanking the Egyptian prime minister for his gesture of support.
Behind the scenes, there were signs that Egypt was trying to play a larger role in brokering a cease-fire. A Hamas delegation has been sent to Cairo to meet with Egyptian negotiators.
Among other things, Israel is demanding that Egypt ensure that Hamas will not be able to smuggle new arms across the Egyptian-Gaza border to replace the rockets and other weaponry that Israeli forces have destroyed, according to one Hamas official.
For its part, Hamas for the first time has set up a war room in Gaza where leaders from the various factions, including Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Fatah, are coordinating their actions, the official said. Such coordination would make it easier to enforce a cease-fire agreement, should one be reached.
In his public comments, Kandil urged Palestinian factions to end their divisions and reunite.
But the failure of Israel and the Gaza militants to observe the cease-fire during Kandil’s brief visit raised doubts about whether an agreement was imminent.