Egypt attacks Iran and allies in Arab world

CAIRO Wed Jan 28, 2009 3:33pm GMT

1 of 2. Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit (L) and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki attend a news conference following a dinner with the foreign ministers of the European Union member countries at the EU Council Headquarters in Brussels January 25, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Sebastien Pirlet

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt aired its grievances against Iran, the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah, saying they worked together in the fighting over Gaza to provoke conflict in the Middle East.

"(They tried) to turn the region to confrontation in the interest of Iran, which is trying to use its cards to escape Western pressure ... on the nuclear file," Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in an interview with Orbit satellite channel broadcast Wednesday.

Aboul Gheit also said that Egypt undermined Qatar's attempts to arrange a formal Arab summit on Gaza earlier this month, arguing that it would have damaged "joint Arab action."

"Egypt made the summit fail... This summit, if it had taken place as an Arab summit with a proper quorum, would have damaged joint Arab action. We can see what others do not see," he said.

The interview was broadcast Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning and the state news agency MENA carried excerpts.

The comments are the first acknowledgement by Egypt that it actively sought to prevent the Doha summit on January 16, which was the subject of a bitter tug-of-war between rival Arab states.

It also indicated that a reconciliation meeting in Kuwait last week between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on one hand, and Qatar and Syria on the other, had only a short-term effect.

Qatar failed to win enough support to hold a formal Arab League summit on Gaza but it went ahead anyway with an informal consultative meeting of Arab leaders.

The wrangling reflected deep divisions between Arab governments. On one side Saudi Arabia and Egypt, wary of the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, favored discussing Gaza at a separate economic summit in Kuwait a few days later.

Diplomats say Egypt resents the Qatari challenge to its traditional role as leading Arab mediator and dislikes the influence of the satellite television channel Al Jazeera, which is based in Doha and owned by the Qatari government.

"Some people imagined that a satellite channel could bring down the Egyptian state, without realizing that Egypt is much stronger than that," Aboul Gheit said.

"Egypt is very big and has extensive influence despite attempts to influence this stance and role, whether in the Al Jazeera channel or other channels," he added.

The Egyptian minister also criticized Hamas for what he called its coup against the forces of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

(Writing by Jonathan Wright; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)