“We called on Morsi to cut off all diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel and to urge all Arab and Muslim countries to do the same”

CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi ordered his prime minister and top security officials to visit the Gaza Strip on Friday to show support for Palestinian residents in the face of what he called an “unacceptable” bombing campaign by Israel.

State television said Thursday that Prime Minister Hesham Kandil would lead the high-level mission aimed at meeting the “urgent needs” of Gaza residents. News agencies reported that the team would also include Maj. Gen. Mohamed Raafat Shehata, Egypt’s intelligence chief, as well as the health minister and top Morsi aides. During their one-day visit, the Egyptians plan to meet with top Gaza officials and “show solidarity with the Palestinian people,” a cabinet officer told Reuters news agency.

The announcement of the visit came after Morsi on Thursday condemned Israel’s ongoing military offensive against the Gaza Strip, an assault that Israeli officials said was triggered by Palestinian rocket attacks from the enclave. Morsi, an Islamist who took office in June as Egypt’s first democratically elected president, has come under growing pressure at home to take tough action against the Jewish state.

“The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region,” Morsi said in televised remarks Thursday afternoon.

Egyptian political parties, activist groups and media spoke out unanimously against Israel on Thursday, after a night of Israeli airstrikes on Islamist militant targets in the Gaza Strip.

Cairo withdrew its ambassador to Tel Aviv on Wednesday night and called for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the situation in Gaza. Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr also spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by phone, urging Washington to intervene to halt Israeli “aggression,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Morsi told the nation Thursday that he had called on the Cairo-based Arab League to convene an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers. He said he had also telephoned President Obama, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to call for international intervention in the conflict.

“I called the U.S. President Obama shortly before dawn today, and we discussed ways of achieving calm and ending the bloodshed,” Morsi said in his televised address. “I explained to him the role of Egypt in the region and our interest in maintaining our ties with the United States, but I said we reject such aggression.”

Leading politicians and activists, including members of Morsi’s own Muslim Brotherhood, called on the president to sever ties with the Jewish state and open Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with Gaza.

“We called on Morsi to cut off all diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel and to urge all Arab and Muslim countries to do the same,” said Mahmoud Ghozlan, a high-ranking leader of the Brotherhood.

The government’s decision to withdraw Egypt’s ambassador was insufficient, Ghozlan and other political leaders said.

The Muslim Brotherhood, in which Morsi was a leading figure, has close ties to Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamist organization that controls the Gaza Strip. Analysts said Egypt’s newly elected leadership was unlikely to be as accepting of Israel’s actions against Gaza as the country’s ousted autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, had been.

Animosity toward Israel runs high in Egypt, and many Egyptians saw the Mubarak regime as a willing puppet of U.S. and Israeli policy in the region. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and state officials pledged Wednesday night that Egyptian policy had entered a new era.

Newspaper headlines on Thursday referred to Palestinians slain in Wednesday’s airstrikes as “martyrs” and warned of imminent regional war that could engulf Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The Washington Post has the full article

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