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The Mideast

Muslim Brotherhood leader blasts peace efforts with Israel after Morsi helps broker cease-fire

 

The top leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood denounced peace efforts with Israel and urged holy war to liberate Palestinian territories on Thursday — one day after the country's president, who hails from the movement, mediated a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians to end eight days of fierce fighting.

"The enemy knows nothing but the language of force," said Mohammed Badie. "Be aware of the game of grand deception with which they depict peace accords," he said in a statement carried on the group's website and emailed to reporters.

His statement was a sharp deviation from the role played by President Mohammed Morsi in the last week. Egypt's role in brokering the deal has been hailed by U.S. officials.

The Brotherhood sometimes delivers conflicting messages, depending on its audience. There are also ideological and generational divisions within the movement, with older leaders like Badie often seen as more conservative.

The Muslim Brotherhood doesn't recognize Israel and — at least officially — its members refuse to hold direct talks with Israeli officials. But Morsi has said that he will abide by the terms of Egypt's 1979 treaty with Israel, and many members say they are in little hurry to enter into armed conflict with the Jewish state.

Badie declared that "jihad is obligatory" for Muslims. But he also said that taking up arms would be the "last stage," only after Muslims achieved unity. "The use of force and arms while the group is fragmented and disconnected, unorganized, weak in conviction, with faint faith — this will be destined for death."

In the meantime, he called on Muslims to "back your brothers in Palestine. Supply them with what they need, seek victory for them in all international arenas." Badie's title — General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood — also implies a leadership role in the Islamist group's sister movements across the world.

Under the deal, Gaza's ruling Hamas is to stop rocket fire into Israel while Israel is to cease attacks and allow the opening of the strip's long-blockaded borders.

The mood in Israel over the deal was mixed. Some were grateful that quiet had been restored without a ground operation that could have cost the lives of more soldiers. Others — particularly those in southern Israel hit by rockets over the past 13 years — thought the operation was abandoned too quickly.

Thousands of Israeli soldiers who had been sent to the border during the fighting withdrew Thursday, the military said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the offensive's aims of halting Gaza rocket fire and weakening Hamas were achieved. "I know there are citizens who were expecting a harsher response," he said, adding that Israel is prepared to act if the cease-fire is violated.

Israeli officials also made it clear that their position had not warmed toward Hamas, which they view as a terror group aligned with their archenemy Iran and pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state.

"Without a doubt, Israel in the long run won't be able to live with an Iranian proxy on its border," Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel's Channel 10. "As long as Hamas continues to incite against Israel and talk about destroying Israel they are not a neighbor that we can suffer in the long run. But everything in its time."

Israel launched the offensive Nov. 14 to halt renewed rocket fire from Gaza, unleashing some 1,500 airstrikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Hamas and other Gaza militants showered Israel with just as many rockets.

The eight days of fighting killed 161 Palestinians, including 71 civilians. Six Israelis, two soldiers and four civilians, were killed and dozens others wounded by rockets fired into residential neighborhoods.

The Hamas-Israel fighting was the first major international test for Morsi, who was caught between either supporting Hamas, one of the Egyptian Brotherhood's sister movements, and Cairo's regional and international commitments.

In a development that could complicate cooperation on the cease-fire, Israel on Thursday arrested an Arab-Israeli man connected to Hamas and Islamic Jihad on accusations he planted a bomb on a bus in Tel Aviv that wounded 27 people in the hours before the agreement was announced Wednesday, police said.