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Article posted: 11/21/2012 8:35 PM

Egyptian leader earns respect of U.S., Israel

By

CAIRO -- The Gaza cease-fire deal reached Thursday marks a startling trajectory for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi: an Islamist leader who refuses to talk to Israelis or even say the country's name mediated for it and finally turned himself into Israel's de facto protector.

The accord inserts Egypt to an unprecedented degree into the conflict between Israel and Hamas, establishing it as the arbiter ensuring that militant rocket fire into Israel stops and that Israel allows the opening of the long-blockaded Gaza Strip and stops its own attacks against Hamas.

In return, Morsi emerged as a major regional player. He won the trust of the United States and Israel, which once worried over the rise of an Islamist leader in Egypt but throughout the week-long Gaza crisis saw him as the figure most able to deliver a deal with Gaza's Hamas rulers.

"I want to thank President Morsi for his personal leadership to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who met Morsi Thursday, said at a Cairo press conference with Egypt's foreign minister announcing the accord.

"This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace," she said.

After Israel launched its assault on Gaza a week ago, aimed at stopping militant rocket fire, Morsi's palace in a Cairo suburb became the Middle East's diplomacy central.

He held talks with Turkey's prime minister and the emir of Qatar, Germany's foreign minister and a host of top Arab officials to get them behind his mediation. An Israeli envoy flew secretly into Cairo for talks with Egyptian security officials, though Morsi did not meet or speak directly with any Israelis.

Throughout it all, Morsi and his aides sided openly with Hamas.

But since coming to power, the Brotherhood has had to yield to pragmatism. The group and Morsi have promised to abide by the peace accord.

When the Israeli offensive began, President Barack Obama spoke to Morsi after talking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While Obama and Morsi disagreed over whom to blame for the violence, they agreed to work together to halt it.

That Israel was comfortable with an Islamist like Morsi mediating may not be a measure of trust as much as a realization only the Egyptians can persuade their Hamas cousins to enter a deal and ensure an end to rocket attacks.

The cease-fire announced Thursday defines Egypt as the "sponsor" of the deal to which each side would appeal over violations. That potentially puts Egypt in the uncomfortable position of ensuring militants in Gaza don't fire rockets. If the deal falls apart -- whichever side is to blame -- Egypt could face damage to its credibility or strained ties with one side or the other.

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