A Ram Allah-based newspaper, al-Ayyam, has quoted Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath as saying the Egyptians had taken the decision in light of "the continuation of wanton Israeli violence against the Palestinian people".

 

"Our Egyptian brothers have informed us that Egypt can't dispatch security personnel to Gaza while Israel continues to commit these killings. The real obstacle impeding the Egyptian role and efforts lies in Israeli intransigence and refusal to restore calm," Shaath told al-Ayyam.

 

He said Egypt had succeeded in obtaining a commitment from Palestinian resistance groups to abide by a ceasefire on condition of reciprocity. But Israel refused to give Egypt a similar commitment, Shaath said, raising worries in Egyptian circles that the Israeli army might eventually shoot at Egyptian security personnel in Gaza.

 

An Egyptian diplomat in Gaza refused to confirm or deny that Cairo had suspended its efforts to facilitate Israel's planned pullout, saying no decision to that effect had been taken.

 

'Israel's priority'

 

Speculation surrounding Egypt's decision has mounted against a backdrop of almost daily clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian resistance groups. 

"Our Egyptian brothers have informed us that Egypt can't dispatch security personnel to Gaza while Israel continues to commit these killings"

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, quoted in al-Ayyam newspaper

On Israel's part, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has ruled out a ceasefire between the military and resistance fighters, saying Israel had to respond to "terrorist attacks".

Shalom is also reported to have sought the Bush administration's help to prevent the UN Security Council from endorsing Sharon's "unilateral disengagement" plan – on the grounds that the UN body was not the "proper place to discuss this issue". 

The Israeli foreign minister had strong reservations about the Gaza pullout plan from the outset, and only reluctantly voted in favour of it last month.

 

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for his ministry, Amira Oron, declined to answer a question put by Aljazeera.net on Israel's reason for not giving Egypt a commitment on reaching a ceasefire deal with Palestinian resistance groups.

 

Israel's priority now was to "fight terror", not "reach a ceasefire", she said.

 

But Palestinian officials question Israel's commitment to the "unilateral disengagement" plan.

 

Sincerity questioned

 

Speaking to Aljazeera.net, Abdullah Abdullah, Palestinian Authority's deputy foreign minister, said, "There is no certainty or certitude about this plan. The Sharon government could lose its parliamentary majority any time and a new election would be decided and the entire plan would evaporate."

 

Many Palestinians doubt Israel's
commitment to Gaza withdrawal

He said Israel has not taken - and is unlikely to take - a strategic decision to give up the spoils of the 1967 war, thus proving it is not really sincere about reaching peace with the Palestinians.

 

"Everybody knows this reality, but the Americans are conniving with the Israelis and the Europeans don't have the guts to say publicly what they are telling us privately," he said.

 

Abdullah also denied the existence of any Egyptian initiative, saying that Cairo doesn't play the role of a "third party" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

"Egypt wants to help the Palestinians achieve internal harmony and activate peace efforts, but Israel is impeding and undercutting Egyptian efforts by their daily criminal incursions into our population centres and atrocities against our defenceless people," he said.