Sunday, December 25, 2011

Riding ballot success, Egypt's Salafis condemn Israel ties

Statement comes after spokesman for Islamist group gave interview last week to Israel Army Radio stating that Al-Nour supports peace treaty with Israel • Party wins more than 30 percent of vote in parliamentary elections.
Israel Hayom Staff and News Agencies

Egypt's ultra-conservative Islamist party Al-Nour shifted gears on the Israel-Egypt peace treaty on Sunday, saying they will "stand firmly against normalization between the two countries in all forms, and are against ties with any entity that wants to harm the Egyptian identity." The statement came after the Salafist Al-Nour's spokesman Dr. Yusari Hamad gave an interview last week to Israel Army Radio in which he stated that all Al-Nour supports peace with Israel. The interview caused an uproar in the Egyptian press and prompted the party to clarify their position. The party will work to change clauses in the treaty "in a legitimate manner," according to the statement on Sunday.

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Hamad told Israel Army Radio that there had been a "smear campaign" waged against Al-Nour, which surprised the world when in the first two of three rounds of parliamentary elections won more than 30 percent of the vote. Al-Nour is currently in second place after the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party which earned around 40% of the votes.

The leading Islamist group, the FJP, said it expected to hold onto its lead in the second round but that it was not clear if its share of the vote would hold steady around the 40% mark.

After the interview aired last week, Hamad told The Associated Press that he did not know he was talking to Israeli Army Radio, and he was only told it was for an Israeli broadcaster. He claimed that had he known, he would not have agreed to the Army Radio interview because "they occupy our Palestinian brothers."

He also said that his party "without doubt" supports changes to the agreement, including raising troop levels in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel.

"We call for full Sinai rights for Egypt and for our brothers in Palestine and occupied lands, and we see this as directly related to the agreement," he told the AP.

Many Israelis are concerned that Islamist parties are looking to abrogate the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, the first between Israel and an Arab nation, which has maintained a cold quiet ever since its signing in 1979. The agreement is a pillar of security for both countries. For Israel, it has allowed the diversion of military resources to other fronts. For Egypt, it has brought in billions of dollars in U.S. military aid.

The peace agreement defines that area of Sinai along Israel's border as a demilitarized zone, allowing only for Egyptian border guards, not troops. However, Israel has allowed for the temporary presence of several thousand Egyptian troops into Sinai to counter a surge of extremist Islamic activity that has taken hold, with some violence, since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February.

In August, the porous and lawless Sinai provided the entry point for a group of Palestinian terrorists, who killed eight Israelis in a multi-pronged attack. Following that attack, relations between Egypt and Israel soured as Israeli security forces pursuing the terrorists accidentally shot and killed six Egyptian soldiers. In the uproar that followed, Egyptian protesters tore down a security wall surrounding the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, storming it and trapping the employees inside for several harrowing hours.

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