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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