CAIRO (Reuters) - Thousands protested in Egyptian cities on Friday against Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s president vowed to support the enclave’s population in the face of “blatant aggression”.
Western governments are watching Egypt’s response to the attacks for signs of a more assertive stance towards Israel since an Islamist came to power in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
President Mohamed Mursi is mindful of anti-Israeli sentiment among Egyptians emboldened by last year’s Arab Spring uprising but needs to show Western allies his new government is no threat to Middle East peace.
His prime minister, Hisham Kandil, visited Gaza on Friday in a demonstration of solidarity after two days of strikes by Israeli warplanes targeting Gaza militants.
”We see what is happening in Gaza as blatant aggression against humanity,“ Mursi said in comments carried by Egypt’s state news agency. ”I warn and repeat my warning to the aggressors that they will never rule over the people of Gaza.
“I tell them in the name of all the Egyptian people that Egypt today is not the Egypt of yesterday, and Arabs today are not the Arabs of yesterday.”
The Egyptian foreign minister also spoke to his counterparts in the US, Jordan, Brazil and Italy on Friday to discuss the situation in Gaza, a statement from the foreign ministry said.
Mohamed Kamel Amr spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the necessity of cooperation between the U.S. and Egypt to end the military confrontations. Amr stressed the necessity of Israel ending attacks on Gaza and a truce being rebuilt between the two sides, the statement said.
Mursi’s toppled predecessor Hosni Mubarak was a staunch U.S. ally who upheld a cold but stable peace with Israel.
The new president has vowed to respect a three-decade peace treaty with the Jewish state. But ties have been strained by protests that forced the evacuation of Israel’s ambassador to Cairo last year and cross-border attacks by Islamist militants.
More than 1,000 people gathered near Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque after Friday prayers, many waving Egyptian and Palestinian flags.
“Gaza Gaza, symbol of pride”, they chanted, and “generation after generation, we declare our enmity towards you, Israel”.
“I cannot as an Egyptian, an Arab and a Muslim just sit back and watch the massacres in Gaza,” said protester Abdel Aziz Nagy, 25, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Protesters were marching from other areas of Cairo towards Tahrir Square, the main rallying point for last year’s uprising.
In Alexandria, around 2,000 protesters gathered in front of a mosque, some holding posters demanding Egypt’s border crossing to Gaza be opened to allow aid into the impoverished enclave.
Hundreds also gathered in the cities of Ismailia, Suez and al-Arish to denounce Israel’s attacks.
Reporting by Saad Hussein and Ayman Samir in Cairo, Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria and Yousri Mohamed in Ismailia; Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Robert Woodward