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Egypt recalls ambassador from Israel in protest of Gaza strikes

President Mohamed Morsi bows to domestic pressure.

President Mohamed Morsi recalled the Egyptian ambassador to Israel on Wednesday night after Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip resulted in the death of at least ten Palestinians, including Ahmed Jabari – Hamas’s top military chief. 

The decision followed mounting domestic pressure upon Morsi, as Egyptian citizens clamoured for the president to take a stronger stance against Israeli bellicosity.  

Morsi also pushed for an emergency Arab League ministerial meeting in the wake of the attacks, which will be held on Saturday.

Hamas declared that the Israeli broadsides had “opened the gates of hell”.

Later, Hamas militants responded to the attacks, killing several Israeli citizens in retaliatory rocket strikes, despite Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense shield shooting down the bulk of the missiles.

With its evolution fast-becoming a profound threat to stability in the Levant, the conflict shows little sign of abating.

During a televised press conference, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would not shy away from further bloodshed:

“If it becomes necessary, we are ready to expand the operation”

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday night as violence erupted. 

In Egypt, the Associated Press reported that hundreds of protesters gathered in downtown Cairo to condemn the attacks, calling upon Morsi to break his silence:

“Morsi where is your decision”, they chanted.

“Our leaders, enough with the silence. The people of Gaza are dying”.

The public outcry echoed sharp criticism levelled against Morsi earlier in the week, when he failing to speak out against the death of seven Palestinians in similar attacks by the Israeli air force.

In the face of mounting domestic pressure, a presidential spokesman announced on state television that Morsi had recalled the Egypt’s envoy to Israel:

“President Mohamed Mursi has followed the Israeli brutal assault in which a number of martyrs and sons of the Palestinian people were killed”, declared spokesman Yasser Ali.

"On this basis he has recalled the Egyptian ambassador from Israel; has ordered the Egyptian represntative at the United Nations to call for an emergency meeting at the Security Council ... and summoned the Israeli ambassador in Egypt in protest over the assault", the statement added. 

The decision could herald a shift in Egypt-Israeli relations, which have hung in the balance since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak, who sought to build close ties with Israel after decades of animosity.

The election of the Islamist Morsi, who was the de facto candidate for the the Muslim Brotherhood, holds the capacity to sour diplomatic relations.  

The Muslim Brotherhood is a vocal critic of the Israeli state and Tel-Aviv’s perennial abuse of Palestinian citizens. Furthermore, Hamas is effectively the Brotherhood’s Palestinian chapter, for all intents and purposes.

Since taking the presidential office in June, Morsi has refused to meet with his Israeli counterparts, widening the diplomatic gulf between the two states.

Despite this, Morsi has not actively set out to pursue a radical overhaul in relations, discreetly cooperating with Israeli forces to combat Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula whilst pledging to uphold the historic 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty brokered during the Camp David Accords.

Nonetheless, as Egypt’s first freely elected president, Morsi is somewhat obliged to represent the views of his electorate, which has a robust anti-Israeli dimension. 

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

The Prime Minister still has questions to answer about his plans for Syria

Cameron needs a better plan for Syria than mere party-politicking, says Ian Lucas.

I was unfortunate enough to hear our Prime Minister discussing the vexed issue of military action in Syria on the Today programme yesterday. It was a shocking experience - David Cameron simply cannot resist trying to take party political advantage of an extremely serious crisis. It is quite clear that there are massive humanitarian, military and political issues at stake in Syria. A number of international and national powers including the United States and Russia are taking military action within Syria and David Cameron said in the broadest terms that he thought that the UK should do so too.

The questions then arise - what should we do, and why should we do it?

Let me make it clear that I do believe there are circumstances in which we should take military action - to assist in issues which either affect this country's national interest and defence, or which are so serious as to justify immediate action on humanitarian grounds. It is for the Prime Minister, if he believes that such circumstances are in place, to make the case.

The Prime Minister was severely shaken by the vote of the House of Commons to reject military action against President Assad in 2013. This was a military course which was decided upon in a very short time scale, in discussion with allies including France and the United States.

As we all know, Parliament, led by Ed Miliband’s Labour Opposition and supported by a significant number of Conservative MPs, voted against the Government’s proposals. David Cameron's reaction to that vote was one of immediate petulance. He ruled out military action, actually going beyond the position of most of his opponents. The proposed action against Assad action was stressed at the time by President Obama to be very limited in scope and directed specifically against the use of chemical weapons. It was not intended to lead to the political end of President Assad and no argument was made by the governments either in the United States or in the UK that this was an aim. What was proposed was short, sharp military action to deal specifically with the threat of chemical weapons. Following the vote in the House of Commons, there was an immediate reaction from both United States and France. I was an Opposition spokesman at the time, and at the beginning of the week, when the vote was taken, France was very strident in its support for military action. The House of Commons vote changed the position immediately and the language that was used by President Obama, by John Kerry and others .

The chemical weapons threat was the focus of negotiation and agreement, involving Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his connections with Syria.  The result was that Assad agreed to dispense with chemical weapons on a consensual basis and no military action took place.

David Cameron felt humiliated by this outcome and loses no opportunity to suggest that the decision was wrong.  He is determined that he should revisit the issue of bombing in Syria, though now action there has elided to action against Islamic State. He has delegated Michael Fallon to prepare the ground for a vote on military action in Parliament. Fallon is the most political of Defence Secretaries - before he became a minister he was regularly presented by the Conservative party as its attack dog against Labour. He gives me the impression of putting the Conservative Party’s interest, at all times, above the national interest. Nothing in his tenure at Defence has changed my view of him.

I was therefore very sceptical what when, in September, Fallon suggested that there should be briefings of members of Parliament to inform us of the latest position on Syria. It turns out that I was right - at the Conservative party conference, Mr Fallon has been referring to these briefings as part of the process that is changing minds in the House of Commons towards taking military action in Syria. He is doubtless taking his orders from the Prime Minister, who is determined to have a vote on taking part in military action in Syria, this time against Islamic State.  

If the Prime Minister wishes to have the support of the House of Commons for military action he needs to answer the following questions: 

What is the nature of the action that he proposes?

What additional impact would action by the UK have, above and beyond that undertaken by the United States and France?

What is the difference in principle between military action in Syria by the UK and military action in Syria by Russia?

What would be the humanitarian impact of such action?

What political steps would follow action and what political strategy does the government have to resolve the Syrian crisis?

The reality is that the United States, UK, France and other western powers have been hamstrung on Syria by their insistence Assad should go. This situation has continued for four years now and there is no end in sight.

The Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary have yet to convince me that additional military action in Syria, this time by the United Kingdom, would help to end Syria's agony and stem the human tragedy that is the refugee crisis engulfing the region and beyond. If the Prime Minister wishes to have support from across the House of Commons, he should start behaving like the Prime Minister of a nation with responsibilities on the United Nations Security Council and stop behaving like a party politician who seeks to extract political advantage from the most serious of international situations.

Ian Lucas is the Labour MP for Wrexham.