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Palestinians Wary of Egypt's Role in Gaza - 2004-06-22


Palestinian militant groups are publicly opposing the role Egypt may play in providing security in the Gaza Strip, when Israel withdraws from the area.

Major Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, say they are dismayed about the possible security role certain Arab parties may play in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The complaint is clearly aimed at Egypt and Jordan and, in effect, accuses both countries of an attempt to take over the Palestinian problem and of doing Israel's bidding.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he has found no real Palestinian partner to make peace and, therefore, has no choice but to take unilateral action. He has proposed to dismantle Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small settlements in the West Bank by the end of 2005.

Israel has been in close contact with Egyptian officials about helping to ensure security in the Gaza Strip after the Israelis pull out. Cairo has indicated a willingness to do so and to send military experts to Gaza to retrain Palestinian security forces.

The Palestinian Authority has welcomed the Egyptian offer of help, but Yasser Arafat has yet to agree to all the details. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is due to meet again this week with Israeli and Palestinian officials to discuss the issue.

Jordan has also been tapped as a possible security guarantor in parts of the West Bank.

Palestinian political analyst, Mehdi Abdelhadi of the PASIA research center, says militants are concerned about such developments and their message to the Arabs is clear.

"We are not looking for Arabs to protect the Israelis from us or to separate the Israelis from us," he said. "Either you join us in confrontation or join us in negotiations, but not that you sit in our seat and take over the lead with the Israelis in our absence."

Militant groups are jockeying for position in Gaza if and when the Israelis pull out, but Mr. Abdelhadi says it is not just the militants who are worried. He says during the past few days other Palestinian groups and activists have held meetings in Gaza and the West Bank. They have expressed increasing concern that Israel is deliberately looking for Arab partners to impose a solution on the Palestinian conflict without dealing with the Palestinians themselves.