Egypt, Hamas welcome US Middle East envoy

Cairo – In Egypt and in the Gaza Strip, the enthusiasm is definitely palpable over the arrival of George Mitchell, President Obama's new envoy to the Middle East.

He's not a stranger. Many in the Arab world gained respect for Mr. Mitchell following his report on the al- Aqsa Intifada, which broke out in 2000. The report on the conflict was viewed as balanced, placing the blame at the feet of leaders on both sides.

Hamas officials, however, say they are disappointed that Mitchell has no plans to meet with them on this trip, and say they won't be left out of the loop. Naturally, they say, any extension of the cease-fire depends on Hamas.

And that cease-fire was looking increasingly shaky on Tuesday after an incident in which one Israeli soldier and one Palestinian were killed. It started after an Israeli patrol along the border with Gaza was hit, probably by a roadside bomb.

Mitchell is in Cairo today and will be in Israel Wednesday. But there's some Arab dismay that Mitchell will not be seeing the worst of the 22-day war: He will almost definitely not be stopping in Gaza. No American official has been permitted to travel to the Gaza Strip since a convoy carrying  senior US intelligence officials was attacked in 2003. A roadside bomb was also behind that attack.

We wrote last week about Mitchell’s track record as the man who brokered peace in Northern Ireland after decades of hatred and violence.

Mr. Obama gave Mitchell a boost this morning on Arab TV (click here for excerpts and video), saying that he has “enormous stature” as an international negotiator. “What I told him is, start by listening,” said Obama. “All too often, the US starts by dictating.”
There is a sense in many corners of the Arab world of "Let's give Obama a chance."

Mohammed Essam Derbala, one of the leaders of  al-Gama'a al-Islamiya (The Islamic Group) in Egypt, has called on Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda to declare a unilateral four-month cease-fire with the United States.

It's an appropriate nod toward Obama, Mr. Derbala indicated, following the new US president's pledge to turn a new page in America's  relationship with the Muslim world and to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center, where the US has been holding enemy combatants from Muslim countries since 9/11.

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