* Egypt PM, security chief to visit Gaza on Friday
* Biggest challenge yet for Mursi
By Marwa Awad and Omar Fahmy
CAIRO, Nov 15 President Mohamed Mursi condemned
Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as unacceptable aggression
on Thursday and ordered Egypt's prime minister to visit the
besieged enclave in a show of support for the Palestinians.
Facing his biggest test since becoming Egypt's first
popularly elected president this year, Mursi - whose roots are
in the Muslim Brotherhood - has to balance the need to show
solidarity with fellow Islamists running Gaza with the country's
dependence on about $2 billion a year in U.S. aid.
"We are in contact with the people of Gaza and with
Palestinians and we stand by them until we stop the aggression,"
Mursi said in a televised address. "The Israelis must realise
that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to
instability in the region."
A cabinet source said the prime minister and intelligence
chief would visit Gaza on Friday to meet officials from Hamas,
which runs Gaza, and show support to Palestinians. Presidential
spokesman Yasser Ali said the health minister and some of
Mursi's assistants would accompany the prime minister.
Egypt has already recalled its ambassador to Israel and
appealed to the UN Security Council to end the fighting in which
16 Palestinians, five of them children, and three Israelis have
But sending a high-level delegation would raise the stakes
- potentially forcing Israel to choose between suspending its
shelling of Gaza or risking the lives of senior officials from a
country with which it signed a peace treaty in 1979.
A senior Brotherhood source close to the presidency told
Reuters Mursi considered the prime minister's trip to Gaza in
the midst of Israeli strikes a "heroic and historic move" that
showed the presidency taking strides in its foreign policy.
"The timing of the visit is very important because it shows
the new presidency is sending its head of government to Gaza,"
the source said.
Mursi had earlier looked more subdued and ill-at-ease than
usual when he appeared on television to tell Egyptians about
Cairo's response to the air strikes which began on Wednesday.
It was the first time he mentioned Israel by name in a
public address. Ties between the two neighbours were never warm
but have cooled further since Mursi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak,
a staunch U.S. ally, was deposed in a street revolt last year.
Mursi faces an uncomfortable dilemma in his relations with
Israel. While keen to acknowledge widespread popular antipathy
to the Jewish state, he also needs to persuade Western powers
that they need not fear an Egypt governed by Islamists.
The Brotherhood describes Israel as a racist and
expansionist state, although Mursi has pledged to respect the
peace treaty that ended a succession of wars with Israel.
The head of the Brotherhood, the country's most organised
group, called for nationwide protests to support the people of
Gaza. Demonstrations were also planned for Friday.
Dozens of youths protested in front of the Arab League
headquarters in Cairo and burned Israeli flags, chanting: "We
will not give in, no matter how much the brutality grows."
Protesters in the port city of Alexandria also burned Israeli
Mursi said he had spoken by phone with U.S. President Barack
Obama and discussed "ways to reach calm and end the aggression".
He said he told Obama of "how keen we are (to maintain)
relations with the United States but also our absolute rejection
of this aggression and the spilling of blood and the blockade of
He said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had promised to
relay his demand for an end to the violence to the Israelis.