TEL AVIV – Egypt on Sunday categorically denied a New York Times report that claimed Cairo tacitly accepted President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and took surreptitious steps to persuade the Egyptian public that it was a good thing despite vociferous public criticism of the move.
The Times claimed to be in possession of audio recordings in which Egyptian intelligence officer Capt. Ashraf al-Kholi is heard telling popular talk show hosts that trouble with Israel was not in Egypt’s interest and they should tell their viewers to accept Trump’s decision.
However, “like all our Arab brothers,” Egypt would condemn the decision in public, Kholi told the TV hosts.
In a statement, the Egyptian government said it was “inappropriate for the New York Times, a reputable newspaper, to publish such allegations.”
“Egypt’s positions on international issues are not derived from alleged leaks from an anonymous source. Rather, Egypt’s positions are conveyed by the President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and in official statements as well,” the statement added.
It also referred to an Egyptian-led resolution at the UN last month that rejected U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The report said that Kholi told the talk show hosts that the Palestinian threat to spark a third intifada against Israel in response to Trump’s statement would be bad for Egypt since it would “revive the Islamists and Hamas. Hamas would be reborn once more.”
According to Sunday’s statement, Azmi Megahed, a news anchor said to have also been on the call, had never heard of Kholi and did not make any of the comments attributed to him by the Times.
The statement further claimed that the government did not know who Kholi was.
“The Times’ report claims that Captain Ashraf al-Kholi is an officer with the Egyptian General Intelligence without presenting its readers with the slightest evidence as to the truth of this piece of information or that a person by this name exists in the first place,” the statement said.
Kholi allegedly told the news hosts, “How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really?” according to the Times report.
“This thing will become a reality. Palestinians can’t resist and we don’t want to go to war. We have enough on our plate as you know,” Kholi allegedly said regarding the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
On Saturday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi met with Arab foreign ministers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, the UAE and the Palestinian Authority as well as Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit to discuss seeking international recognition of eastern Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
“There is a political decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and we will strive to reach an international political decision to recognize a Palestinian state … with (eastern) Jerusalem as its capital,” Safadi said.
He added that an additional meeting would take place at the end of the month with the top diplomats of other Arab nations.
Trump’s December declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his promise to move the U.S. embassy there sparked violence in the Muslim world.
Terror group Hamas said Trump‘s move was a “declaration of war” and called for an Intifada. Rockets were launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned that Trump’s announcement “will lead to wars without end.”
“By these deplorable decisions, the United States deliberately undermines all peace efforts,” he said, adding that the move “is tantamount to the United States abdicating its role as a peace mediator.”
128 states rejected Trump’s announcement in the Egyptian-led non-binding UN General Assembly resolution.
Israel captured eastern Jerusalem – which includes Judaism’s holiest sites of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in the Old City – and the West Bank in the 1967 defensive war, seizing it from Jordanian occupation and reuniting the city.
When making his announcement, Trump added the caveat that Jerusalem’s status would be determined in negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.