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Tensions rise between Egypt, Hamas leaders

Associated Press
Published January 30, 2008


CAIRO - Movement across the Gaza-Egypt border slowed to a trickle Tuesday as security forces made progress in sealing off breaches while cold, rainy weather discouraged travelers.

The focus of the weeklong crisis shifted to growing tensions between Egypt and the militant Hamas rulers of Gaza, who are now demanding a role in overseeing the border.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have flooded into Egypt since Hamas militants blasted holes in the border partition so Gazans could escape a tight closure of their territory's borders with Israel and Egypt. Israel had recently sealed its border in response to militant rocket attacks from Gaza.

Over the past few days, Hamas security forces have joined Egyptian border guards supervising traffic at the crossing and helping to repair the breaches. Two large breaches remain open.

Jittery about the chaos, Egypt has invited the rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, to talks aimed at ending the crisis.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who is backed by Arab states, the United States and the European Union, came to Cairo late Tuesday. He said his faction - not Hamas - should control the crossing.

Egypt favors restoring a 2005 international agreement whereby control of the border was shared by Abbas' Palestinian Authority, Israel and EU monitors. Hamas, which seized control of Gaza last June, had no role in border administration before the Jan. 23 breach.

Abbas has expressed readiness to take on the responsibility of all crossing points in Gaza to solve the crisis, but Hamas is insisting it must have a role and that the old arrangements are no longer valid. That has created tensions between Hamas and Egypt, and there was little hope for a breakthrough during meetings today.

In Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, angrily denounced a return to the previous border arrangements. He said the idea was "an international Israeli conspiracy."

[Last modified January 30, 2008, 02:26:47]

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