Babylon & Beyond

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EGYPT: The Arab battle over Gaza

February 1, 2009 |  8:57 am

Gaza_destruction The bickering and divided — some would say dysfunctional — Arab world will attempt to put aside its differences during an international summit in March to raise money for Gaza Strip reconstruction.

Cairo has called the meeting to rebuild the Palestinian enclave that was battered by an estimated $2 billion in damages from the 22-day Israeli incursion against the militant group Hamas.

The fate of Gaza has widened the split in the Arab world between U.S. allies, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and countries and political organizations, including Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, that are linked to the anti-Western influence of Iran.

Cairo and Riyadh boycotted an emergency summit in Qatar last month, arguing that it threatened Arab unity by further polarizing Middle East politics.

The crux is Hamas.

Moderate Arab nations worry that the radical group has woven Islamic extremism into the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Other countries regard Hamas as a defiant voice against Israeli aggression.

Two new dynamics could ease the animosity. Negotiations between Cairo and Hamas have reportedly improved, although Egypt is perturbed over the lack of reconciliation between Hamas and its rival Palestinian Fatah party. And the region is hoping that President Obama’s talk of diplomacy will improve U.S. relations with Iran — a prospect that could reduce tensions across the Middle East.

— Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: A man carrying a wounded child through bomb rubble in Gaza. Credit: Associated Press