Kerry Visits Egypt On The Eve Of Mursi Trial

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US Secretary of State, John Kerry says that there are indications Egypt generals intend to restore democracy.

He says that the USA is committed to working with Egypt’s interim rulers.

Kerry said on Sunday that Egypt’s generals intend to restore democracy, after an army takeover that prompted Washington to freeze some aid to its long-standing ally.

‘Thus far there are indications that this is what they are intending to do,’ Kerry said after a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, referring to his recent remarks in Pakistan that Egypt’s military was ‘restoring democracy’.

Kerry said his country is committed to working with Egypt’s interim rulers, on his first visit to Cairo since the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

On the eve of the opening of Mursi’s trial, Kerry was in Cairo to shore up ties with a key ally and ensure it moves ahead on plans to restore democracy just weeks after Washington suspended aid to the country.

‘We are committed to work and we will continue our cooperation with the interim government,’ Kerry told a joint news conference with Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy, urging ‘inclusive, free and fair elections’.

‘The United States is a friend of the people of Egypt, of the country of Egypt, and we are a partner,’ he said.

Kerry also played down Washington’s suspension just weeks ago of part of its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Cairo.

‘US-Egyptian relations should not be defined by assistance,’ Kerry said, adding direct aid would continue to Egyptians and to help efforts to ‘counter terrorism’.

In a move that angered Cairo, Washington last month said it was ‘recalibrating’ aid to Egypt – including about $1.3 billion for military assistance – and suspending delivery of items like Apache helicopters and F-16 aircraft.

Kerry – the most senior figure of the US administration to visit since Mursi’s July ousting – will also meet interim president Adly Mansour and powerful military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The top US diplomat said Washington believed ‘the US-Egypt partnership will be strongest when Egypt is represented by a democratically elected government’.

He condemned violence since Mursi’s ousting, but said nothing about Mursi himself.

‘I want to say very, very, very clearly: the United States condemns all acts of violence . . . against churches, against worshippers . . . in Sinai . . . in the streets of the country,’ Kerry said.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Egypt as security forces engage in a sweeping crackdown against supporters of Mursi who have tried to stage near daily protests against the Islamist president’s ousting.

Fahmy, who has previously criticised the aid suspension, offered a more upbeat assessment of US-Egyptian ties on Sunday.

‘I said a few days ago that Egyptian-American relations were tense, and I believe after my talks with the US secretary of state today that there are good indications that we seek to resume these relations in a positive manner,’ said Fahmy.

The United States had for three decades supported Mursi’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by a popular uprising in 2011, relying on Egypt to help maintain stability in the volatile region.

Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood member who became Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was toppled by the military on July 3 after a single turbulent year in power that deeply polarised Egyptians.

According to the interim government’s timetable, parliamentary elections are to be held by mid-2014 followed by presidential polls.

Kerry’s visit is the first stop on a packed 12-day trip which will also take in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bethlehem, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.

The aim of squeezing in a Cairo stop was to examine progress on ‘issues that are important to the United States’ such as freedom of assembly and the press, protection of minorities, the participation of civil society and human rights.

The US would be informed by ‘a constant review of progress to help us understand how well the Egyptians are moving along their roadmap (and) when it’s appropriate to lift some of the holds that we have on the equipment,’ a senior State Department official said.

The timing of the visit is awkward however, coming on the eve of Mursi’s trial, with 14 others, on charges of inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012.

Washington has called for Mursi’s release and an end to politically motivated trials but has also stopped short of denouncing his ousting as a coup.

‘Mr Mursi proved unwilling or unable to govern inclusively, alienating many Egyptians,’ Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones said last week.

The military had responded to ‘the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn,’ she added.

• Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he intends to build a separation barrier between the West Bank and Jordan after completing walls on the Egyptian and Syrian borders, according to a report by the Israeli newspaper Maariv on Sunday.

Netanyahu plans to construct the wall in order to send a message to Palestinians who oppose Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, the report says.

The wall will also guarantee continued Israeli control of the border crossing, Netanyahu reportedly said.

He added that the thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan pose a threat to Israeli security, the article continues. The wall would protect Israeli settlements from possible invasion.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that new construction plans are a clear message from the Israeli government to the United States ‘declaring the failure of the peace talks.’

‘Without a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, there will be neither peace nor stability in the region and the leaders of Israel will be responsible for that,’ PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeina said.

Abu Rdeina added that the construction of both the separation wall and Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal and would ‘vanish’ within a Palestinian state.

The Maariv article comes three days after Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh reportedly tendered their resignation to Abbas, an event the PLO has denied.

The last round of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down just weeks after they were launched in September 2010 in a bitter row over settlements.

The internationally recognised Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

•A number of Israeli military vehicles crossed into the Gaza Strip north of Beit Lahiya on Sunday morning, spraying sporadic gunfire, a witness said.

An eyewitness said that the Israeli military forces conducted the incursion at 1am in the northern Gaza Strip and started razing lands, firing intermittently.

No injuries were reported.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli army said that she had not received reports of the incident.

The incursion follows two deadly Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip: an air strike in northern Gaza that killed three Palestinians on Friday and an artillery shelling in Khan Younis refugee camp that killed one on Thursday.

Also on Friday, five Israeli soldiers were wounded by an explosive device as they were clearing a tunnel from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Israel has repeatedly violated the ceasefire with Hamas that was negotiated following Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, during which Israel launched a major assault on Gaza killing around 170 Palestinians in an 8-day-period. Six Israelis also died in the conflict.

The Gaza Strip has been under a severe economic blockade imposed by the State of Israel since 2007. The blockade was imposed following the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections and the subsequent 2007 clashes between Fatah and Hamas, which left Hamas in control of the Strip and Fatah in control of the West Bank.

The blockade has severely limited the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip and has led to frequent humanitarian crises and hardship for Gazans.