CAIRO, Egypt _ The Israeli onslaught on Gaza has unleashed anger across the Middle East _ but it's as much against Egypt as it is against Israel. Protesters have attacked Egyptian embassies, and Hamas leaders accuse Egypt of helping Israel's longtime blockade and even giving a green light for the new offensive.
The anger is a sign of the gulf between an Arab public outraged by the killings of Palestinians and their U.S.-allied-governments, which oppose Hamas' domination of the Gaza Strip and view the Palestinian militant group as fueling trouble in the region.
Demonstrators broke into the Egyptian consulate in the Yemeni city of Aden on Tuesday, trashing the interior, throwing computers out the window and burning the Egyptian flag on the roof. More than 500 protesters demonstrated outside Egypt's embassy in Damascus, as others did days earlier in Beirut. Demonstrators in the Lebanese city of Sidon this week chanted slogans denouncing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as "a pig" and a "collaborator" with Israel.
Mubarak on Tuesday accused critics of seeking "political profit" from Palestinian suffering. Seeking to blunt the criticism, his foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit announced that Cairo was working with Turkey, which has strong ties to Israel, on an initiative to stop Israel's assault and restore a truce.
Egypt has been targeted because it has largely closed its Rafah border crossing into Gaza since Hamas took over the territory in 2007. The crossing is the sole access to Gaza that does not go through Israel, which has imposed a suffocating economic blockade on the tiny coastal strip.
Even more embarrassing, Egypt's Mubarak met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni only a day before Israel launched its assault, and Egypt's foreign minister _ though he urged Israel to show restraint _ was photographed smiling and shaking hands with her at a press conference.
Now with television images of the destruction and death in Gaza shown around the region, Hamas and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group _ both allies of Syria and Iran _ are stoking the anger against Egypt, accusing it of giving its OK to Israel to end Hamas's rule in Gaza, a charge strongly denied by Cairo.
"We do not accept that the attack on Gaza be announced from the heart of Cairo," Mohammed Nazzal, a Hamas senior leader, shouted on Al-Arabiya television Sunday, referring to the Livni visit.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Egypt was "taking part in the crime" against Palestinians and called on Egyptians to rise up and force Rafah open.
The angry back-and-forth could severely damage the key role Egypt has played as a mediator between Hamas on one side and Hamas' rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel on the other.
Egypt, one of only two Arab nations with a peace deal with Israel, has been in a tough position because of the Hamas control of Gaza. It worries that Hamas rule there boosts Iran's influence in the region and could fuel Islamic militancy on its own soil. Cairo is also under pressure from Israel, Abbas and the United States not to make any concessions that would boost Hamas. But at the same time, Egypt has been reluctant to appear to fuel a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Both it and Hamas have tried to stay on good terms because of Egypt's role as mediator.
Mubarak on Tuesday insisted Egypt would not open Rafah unless Abbas' Palestinian Authority controls the crossing and European monitors required under a 2005 agreement are present. Opening it, he said, would "deepen the breach" between Hamas and Abbas, who Egypt calls the legitimate leader of the Palestinians.
Egyptian television, meanwhile, gave heavy coverage to several truckloads of medical and other supplies that Egypt sent in through Rafah in the past two days, and 36 wounded Palestinians who have been brought out to Egyptian hospitals.
Soon after Israel launched its assault Saturday, Aboul Gheit initially seemed to blame Hamas for provoking it, saying "those who didn't listen" to warnings carry the responsibility.
But such talk put Egypt in the uncomfortable position of echoing the arguments of Israel, which says it is acting to halt Hamas rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns.
Since then, Egypt has been more vocal in its calls for Israel to stop the bombardment without conditions. On Tuesday, Aboul Gheit denied claims Egypt did not do enough to prevent the Israeli offensive, saying Mubarak warned Livni not to attack Gaza "because it will have repercussions on the region."
Aboul Gheit said an Egyptian-Turkish peace plan would call for an immediate halt to the Israeli assault, a return to a longterm Hamas-Israel truce and international guarantees to keep border crossings into Gaza open. Aboul Gheit said Egypt had been in touch with Washington and European governments over the plan, and Turkey's prime minister is touring the Mideast on Wednesday to promote the plan.
But the bitter accusations traded over the Gaza bloodshed may strain Egypt's influence with Hamas. They have also heightened tempers between the two camps that have increasingly divided the Mideast _ pro-Western countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia on one side, and Syria and Iran and their allied militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah on the other.
In an unusually vocal criticism of Hamas by an Egyptian official, Abdullah Kamal, a member of Egypt's ruling party, denounced the group as a pawn of Iran, saying Iran and Syria seek to "announce Iran as the leader of the region through its militias, whether Hezbollah or Hamas."