Egypt Urges Calm, But Won't Mediate Ceasefire

Egyptian gov't calls on Israel and Hamas to 'deescalate' - but won't be coming to the Islamist group's rescue as it has in the past.

Ari Soffer and AFP ,

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi

Egypt on Wednesday urged Israel and Hamas in Gaza to halt their escalating conflict but played down hopes of a Cairo-mediated truce.

Egypt, which has a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, played a key role in mediating ceasefires in past wars between the Islamist terrorist group and the Jewish state.  

But it has signaled a more hands-off approach in the latest conflict, which comes at a time of mounting tensions between the new government in Cairo and Hamas.

"There is no mediation, in the common sense of the word," said Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty.

"Egyptian diplomatic efforts are aimed at immediately stopping Israeli aggression and ending all mutual violence. (Egyptian) contacts have not yet achieved a result."

A senior Hamas official pledged that militants would not "surrender" in the face of the latest air strikes on Wednesday.

"There are no ceasefire talks, in the conventional sense. There are ongoing contacts. The Israelis are not interested in mediation, they are looking for surrender," said Osama Hamdan, who is based in Beirut.

"The situation will clear up in the coming hours. We will respond to this escalation, and Israel might be convinced that the escalation does not help them."

Despite Hamas's tough talk, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday afternoon that the IDF would be expanding its operations in Gaza until the rocket fire from the area stopped completely.

"We are all united in the mission to strike at the terrorist organizations and restore quiet," Netanyahu said. "The operation will be expanded and will continue until the firing at our communities stops and quiet is restored."

The death toll in Gaza after two days of Israeli air strikes climbed to more than 40 on Wednesday, emergency services said. Most of the dead are Hamas terrorists.

The Israeli Air Force has targeted 550 terrorist targets in response to more than 220 rockets launched by Hamas and other terrorist groups against Israeli civilians in the past two days alone. Some of those rockets have reached as far as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and even Haifa - some 165 kilometers (102 miles) away from Gaza.

It is the most serious escalation since Israel's November 2012 "Operation Pillar of Defense" counterterrorism operation.

During that conflict, now deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi condemned "Israeli aggression" and sent his prime minister to Gaza in a show of support for Hamas.

Morsi brokered a truce seen as favorable to Hamas, which is an offshoot of his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

But the relationship between Hamas and Cairo has since turned sour. Since the military overthrew him in July 2013, Egypt has cracked down on smuggling tunnels to the Gaza Strip and accused Hamas of aiding the Brotherhood in militant attacks inside Egypt.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who ousted Morsi and has been elected president in his place, has said Hamas alienated Egyptians by backing the Brotherhood.

The Egyptian presidency said late Tuesday that Sisi spoke by telephone with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, his ally, to discuss the Gaza conflict but without elaborating.