Mubarak Calls Hamas' Takeover of the Gaza Strip a 'Coup'

Egyptian president warns of Gaza-West Bank split, says Palestinian infighting 'crossed all red lines.'

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday described Hamas' takeover of Gaza as a "coup" and warned that the militant group's conflict with the moderate Fatah movement could lead to the creation of two Palestinian entities.

In his first remarks since Hamas wrested control over the Mediterranean strip, Mubarak reassured the Fatah leader, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, of Egypt's support.

Mubarak's comments came ahead of Monday's summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where Mubarak will host Abbas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jordan's King Abdullah II.

The gathering is meant to boost Abbas by showing he can move ahead with the peace process with Israel, despite Hamas' hold on Gaza. On Tuesday, Mubarak will meet in Sharm with Saudi King Abdullah, seeking to unify an Arab front behind Abbas and against Hamas.

"We have been following closely the repercussions of the coup over Palestinian legitimacy in Gaza and its grave setbacks on the Palestinian people," Mubarak said.

"We feel sad for the shedding of the blood of Palestinians by Palestinian hands, in a fighting that has crossed all red lines ... leading up to division of its occupied territories," Mubarak added, referring to the Hamas- controlled Gaza and Fatah's West Bank.

But Egypt has not totally cut off dialogue with Hamas. On Saturday, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman called Ismail Haniyeh, the former prime minister from Hamas who was deposed by Abbas following the group's takeover of Gaza, Haniyeh's office reported.

Haniyeh affirmed that dialogue is the only way to solve differences, read the statement from his office. The release did not elaborate further on the conversation with Suleiman.

Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have said the West Bank-based Cabinet formed by Abbas following Gaza's fall to Hamas is the sole legitimate Palestinian government. Egypt moved its embassy from Gaza to the West Bank in an apparent sign that Cairo was shunning Hamas officials.

Egypt has strong domestic concerns over Hamas' rule in neighboring Gaza, which Cairo fears will boost the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's strongest opposition movement, which is close to the Iran-backed Hamas. It also fears Gaza could become a stronghold for Iranian influence in the region.

Mubarak spoke Saturday at the inauguration of the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament. His ruling National Democratic Party grabbed all but three seats in the 88-member Council in a vote that was marred by reports of vote-rigging, low turnout and votes-buying. Scores of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group members were arrested.

The Brotherhood stunned the government in the 2005 elections for the parliament's lower house, by winning more than a fifth of the legislative body's seats to become the largest opposition bloc. Though the group is officially banned, its members run as independents.

Only 176 members of the Shura Council are directly elected for six-year terms, with half of those seats coming up for election every three years. Mubarak appoints the remaining 88 members.