CAIRO: Egypt said Friday its efforts to halt violence in the Gaza Strip have met with “stubbornness,” as it appealed to the international community to intervene to end the deadly conflict.
Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, played a key role in mediating cease-fires in past wars between the Jewish state and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that controls Gaza.
But Cairo has signaled a more hands-off approach in the latest conflict, with mounting tensions between Egypt’s new government and Hamas.
The Foreign Ministry said Friday that the government was finding it difficult to resolve the latest violence.
“ Egypt has communicated with all sides to halt violence against civilians and called on them to continue with the truce agreement signed in November 2012,” the ministry said.
“Unfortunately, these efforts over the past 10 days have met with stubbornness, with only innocent civilians paying the price.”
Egypt helped to broker the 2012 truce between Israel and Hamas.
Wednesday, the ministry said Cairo was not mediating “in the common sense of the word” to end the conflict, but its diplomatic efforts were aimed at “immediately stopping Israeli aggression and ending all mutual violence.”
It adopted a firmer line Friday, hitting out at Israel for killing civilians by using “oppressive policies of mass punishment.”
“ Egypt rejects the irresponsible Israeli escalation in the occupied Palestinian territory, which comes in the form of excessive and unnecessary use of military force leading to the death of innocent civilians,” it said.
“ Egypt demands that the Israeli side adopt self-restraint ... and keeping in mind that it is an occupation force, it has legal and moral obligations to protect civilians,” it said, and appealed to the international community to end the violence.
The continuing escalation of the conflict would not “create the suitable climate ... for future negotiations to peacefully settle” the issue, it added.
Also Friday, Egypt’s army chief and Defense Minister Gen. Sedki Sobhi ordered the sending of 500 tons of food and medical supplies to Gaza, the state news agency MENA reported without offering any further details.
And Egyptian security officials said that security forces had seized 20 Grad rockets being smuggled in from the Gaza Strip through a tunnel by militants in northern Sinai Thursday.
The rockets, along with their launch pads, were seized after a firefight between security forces and militants in the town of Rafah bordering the Palestinian enclave, they said.
Tunnels are used to smuggle food, fuel and consumer products into the densely populated and Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave.
Hamas and other militant groups reportedly use secret tunnels to bring in arms and money.
In March, Egypt’s military said it destroyed 1,370 smuggling tunnels under its border with Gaza, as Cairo’s ties soured with Hamas after the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi last July.
Morsi is in the Muslim Brotherhood to which Hamas is affiliated.
Thursday, however, Egypt opened the Rafah-Gaza crossing to take in Palestinians wounded in the Israeli air strikes which have cost 100 lives.
The crossing is usually closed, with Egyptian officials citing the tense security situation in Sinai where the army is battling an Islamist insurgency.