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Serious differences of opinion between Syria and Egypt are making the process of reaching a Gaza cease-fire agreement difficult. Syria has advised Hamas not to accept Egypt's cease-fire proposal, arguing it is too vague, particularly regarding the issue of Israel's withdrawal from the Strip.

In Syria's opinion, which is coordinated with Iran, the Egyptian proposal may undermine Hamas' position in the Gaza Strip and present Israel with an advantage.

Hamas is demanding a return to the terms of the cease-fire that were reached last June, which bar Israel from attacking the Gaza Strip and demand that the calm be applied in the West Bank after six months. By this, Hamas would show that Israel had not achieved any political gains through its Gaza operation.

The Egyptian initiative, on the other hand, calls for a cease-fire that would take effect within 48-72 hours and would open border crossings to allow humanitarian aid into the Strip.

During the cease-fire, Egypt would hold talks with Israel and Hamas to reach a long-term agreement, and at a later stage would resume the talks between Hamas and Fatah over forming a national unity government.

Hamas is opposed to this proposal because it believes it recognizes Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the Palestinian Authority. His term officially ends Friday.

Syria has urged Hamas to demand that the first stage of a deal include the opening of the Rafah border crossing, a demand that Egypt rejects.

The Egyptians are only willing to open the crossing on the basis of the terms of a 2005 agreement, which requires the presence of Palestinian Authority officials, European Union observers and Israeli cameras.

Egypt believes that the crossings should be opened at this stage to usher in humanitarian aid.

Syria maintains that the opening of the crossings should not be conditioned on the return of PA officials, and has gone so far as to criticize Egypt for failing to open the Rafah crossing at the Egyptian border.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told Al-Manar, Hezbollah's television station, that "Syria [unlike Egypt] did not prevent Lebanese civilians from entering its territory during the Second Lebanon War."

Sarkozy, Erdogan as mediators

The rift between Syria and Egypt is such that the two countries are exchanging their positions through French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The two countries also disagree over the deployment of international forces. Egypt's foreign minister insisted that on Egyptian soil only Egyptian forces be deployed. Hamas has announced that it, too, is opposed to the deployment of international peacekeepers in Gaza and that the model of Security Council 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War, would not be implemented there.

This contravenes Abbas' call for the deployment of such a force in the Gaza Strip with the authority to take action - particularly in preventing Hamas from independent action.