Hamas seeks to lower tension with Egypt

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - The Hamas Islamist group ruling Gaza sought to ease tensions with Cairo on Wednesday by ordering Muslim preachers to mute their criticism of the Egyptian government over what some of the clerics have called its war on Islam.

"Preachers should avoid speaking of the internal affairs of Egypt and focus on our Palestinian national issues and our struggle for the liberation of our land and the freedom of our prisoners (held by Israel)," said Ismail Rudwan, the Hamas-appointed religious affairs minister in Gaza.

He told Reuters he delivered that message in meetings he had held with scores of preachers in mosques in the southern Gaza Strip and planned to see more clerics in other parts of the Palestinian territory.

Events in neighbouring Egypt have resonated strongly in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Brotherhood figure Mohamed Mursi was overthrown as president by the military in July following mass protests.

Efforts by the army-backed government in Egypt to crush the Brotherhood and its closure of cross-border smuggling tunnels used to move weapons and goods into the Gaza Strip have dealt a major blow to Hamas.

Gaza preachers, in fiery sermons, have accused Egypt's army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, of waging war against Islam. Egyptian army officials have said Hamas is interfering in Egyptian affairs and suggested that Palestinians were helping Islamist militants in Sinai, which borders Gaza and Israel.

Hamas denies such allegations, and Rudwan said it regards Egypt as a "strategic supporter of the Palestinian cause". The group, spurned by the West over its refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence, won a Palestinian election in 2006 and seized control of Gaza in 2007 from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

GAZA SALUTE

Egypt also has been angered by Gaza street rallies in which Hamas fighters have flashed a four-finger salute - a show of support for Mursi.

His ousting was seen as a setback for Hamas, especially as the group's ties with traditional allies Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah party have also suffered over its siding with rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In a television interview with an Egyptian channel, Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official who lives in Cairo, voiced his respect for Egypt's military and described the Hamas men's gesture at the protests as a mistake.

But there has been no sign of any easing of Egypt's border crackdown in which tunnel closures have caused fuel shortages that have forced Gaza taxi drivers to buy Israeli-imported petrol and diesel at double the Egyptian price.

Egyptian authorities also have imposed tight restrictions at the Rafah border terminal, Gaza's main window to the world, limiting to 250 the number of Palestinians allowed to cross daily into Egypt. Some 1,200 people a day used to pass through before Mursi's removal.

Cairo closed the crossing on Wednesday after assailants crashed two explosive-laden cars into a security building adjacent to the border area, killing six Egyptian soldiers.

Hamas says some 5,000 people, including students planning to study in Cairo and beyond and patients seeking treatment in Egypt, are stuck in Gaza awaiting permission to cross.

Gaza, home to 1.7 million Palestinians, is also under an Israeli blockade. In 2010, Israel began easing its economic restrictions and allowing more products into the territory through its border crossing.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alison Williams)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

On Now: Delhi vs Kolkata

On Now: Delhi vs Kolkata

Unchanged Kolkata bat, Delhi still without Pietersen More »

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

Royal Challengers overcame a stutter to cruise to the small target they were set by Mumbai Indians. More »

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

Kevin Pietersen's hopes of reviving his international career appeared to end Saturday when ECB managing director Paul Downton said there was 'no way back'… More »

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

Moores gets second stint as England coach

Moores gets second stint as England coach

In a two-year spell from 2007 to 2009, the 51-year-old Moores led England in seven Test series. More »

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

Dalmiya feels that Srinivasan’s ‘power hungry’ attitude isn’t helping matters. More »

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

The 36-year-old believes the T20 format and rule changes in 50-over matches have made a real difference. More »

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Preview — The threat of Sunil Narine looms large again. More »

BCCI members want independent probe

BCCI members want independent probe

The board members are realising after the Supreme Court's observations that something has to be done — IS Bindra More »

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

The bowlers restricted Hyderabad to 133 for 6 before Rahane and Binny took Rajasthan over the line. More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Preview — Given the firepower in both line-ups, Dubai crowd may see another high-scorer More »

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistani cricket authorities have launched an investigation after a number of current international stars played in exhibition matches in the United States… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have an emphatic 8-3 lead in the head-to-head with Punjab, with one game tied More »