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The violence has widened the instability gripping the region, straining already frayed Israel-Egypt relations. The Islamist government in Cairo, like Hamas linked to the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, recalled its ambassador in protest and dispatched Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to show solidarity with Gaza.
Kandil called for an end to the offensive while touring Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital with Ismail Haniyeh, the Gaza prime minister who was making his first public appearance since the fighting began.
Egypt president vows to stand by Gaza
Egypt’s Islamist president says his country will stand by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and demanded Israel stop its latest offensive on the Hamas-ruled territory.
Mohammed Morsi says Egypt “will not leave Gaza on its own” and warned the “aggressor to stop the bloodshed or face the wrath” of Egypt’s new leadership and institutions.
Morsi spoke on Friday at a mosque near his house on the outskirts of Cairo. The sermon was his harshest condemnation yet of the Israeli offensive.
Morsi said he dispatched his prime minister to Gaza to send a clear message that Egypt supports the people there and will not tolerate the killing of civilians.
Hamas is an offshoot of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt. The Brotherhood led protests across the country on Friday against Israel.
In one chaotic moment, a man rushed toward the two leaders, shouting as he held up the body of a 4-year-old boy. The two prime ministers cradled the lifeless boy who Hamas said was killed in an Israeli airstrike — a claim Israel denied.
Fighting to hold back tears, Kandil told reporters that the Israeli operation must end.
"What I saw today in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy ... whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about," he said.
Israel said it halted its incessant air attacks on militant targets in Gaza during Kandil’s visit, though Hamas security claimed three airstrikes hit the territory during that period.
Militants, meanwhile, fired off more than 60 rockets after Kandil arrived in Gaza. The pace of cross-border fighting quickly resumed after the Egyptian leader’s departure.
In Egypt’s two largest cities, Cairo and Alexandria, thousands protested the Israeli offensive Friday in marches organized by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Protesters waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans against Israel. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a few hundred protesters burned an Israeli flag.
Prominent Brotherhood figures took part, many brandishing the checkered Palestinian scarf, or keffiyeh, during the marches.
Small anti-Israeli demonstrations occurred in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and stun grenades. And in Iran, a close Hamas ally, thousands of people took to the streets in the capital Tehran. The demonstrators carried banners denouncing Israel. They chanted "Death to the U.S." and "Death to Israel."
In Europe, reaction was mixed. Germany held Hamas responsible and urged Egypt to pressure the Islamists to halt the violence, while Britain cautioned Israel against launching a ground offensive.
"When Israel has entered into ground invasions in other conflicts that is when they have lost a good deal of international sympathy and support, and of course civilian casualties become much harder to avoid in that situation," Foreign Minister William Hague told reporters in London.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon announced plans to visit the Mideast region soon in a bid to reduce tensions, but his spokesman Martin Nesirky refused to discuss specific sites, countries or dates for the visit.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared determined to move forward. "The Israeli military "continues to strike hard against Hamas and is prepared to expand its action into Gaza," he said.
At least 27 Palestinians, including 14 militants and six children, as well as three Israelis have been killed in the fighting — a relatively low toll compared to the beginning of Israel’s previous major offensive against Hamas four years ago. Netanyahu has said the air force is trying to strike surgically and avoid harm to civilians.
The 4-year-old boy whose body had been handed to Kandil and Haniyeh was killed along with a young man earlier Friday when an Israeli missile struck close to their homes in the town of Jebaliya near Gaza City, relatives said.
The area near the boy’s home showed signs that a projectile had exploded there, with shrapnel marks in the walls of surrounding homes and shattered kitchen windows. But neighbors said security officials quickly took what remained of the projectile, making it impossible to verify who fired it.
Kandil’s visit came after a night of fierce exchanges, with dozens of rocket barrages setting off sirens throughout southern Israel, an area with a population of about 1 million.
Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.
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