Lawyer sues Mubarak for failing to ‘reclaim’ Eilat

Othman Hafnawi appeals to Egypt’s attorney general, claiming Um Rashrash is Egyptian land

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

An Egyptian lawyer has filed a lawsuit against former president Hosni Mubarak and other state officials for neglecting to “reclaim” Um Rashrash — the Israeli city of Eilat — and demanded that Egypt take the southern resort from Israel. The town, which had been occupied by the British and was claimed by Jordan, was captured by Israel during the War of Independence in March 1949.

Egyptian lawyer Othman Hafnawi filed the lawsuit with the country’s attorney general, accusing Mubarak, his former political adviser Osama El-Baz, former foreign minister Mohammed Kamel Amr and other government officials of “not lifting a finger to liberate the area occupied in 1967 [sic].” Hafnawi claimed that the Egyptian region of Um Rashrash consisted of 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles) and was home mostly to Christian inhabitants, the Egyptian daily Al-Wafd reported on Sunday.

Egypt has never made any claim to the southern resort city, which sits near the border with Sinai. In 2006, Egyptian foreign minister Ahmad Abul Ghaith told Al-Ahram daily that Um Rashrash was not Egyptian land.

But attorney Hafnawi insisted that Um Rashrash was Egyptian land, demanding that the court summon Turkey’s ambassador to Egypt to reveal the maps of a 1906 agreement in which the Ottoman Empire handed over the administration of Sinai to Egypt, then under British control.

Israel captured Um Rashrash during the final military operation of the War of Independence, known as operation Uvda. On the afternoon of March 10, 1949, units from the Golani and Hanegev Brigades arrived at the village — which was claimed by Jordan — famously placing a makeshift Israeli flag atop an abandoned police station. Israel and Jordan signed an armistice agreement the following day.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, had set his sights on the port village as early as the 1930s, considering it a strategic foothold on the Red Sea. In a letter to American Zionist leader Rabbi Stephen Wise in 1935, Ben-Gurion wrote of Eilat’s immense economic and political importance, noted Israeli historian Benny Morris in his book “1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War.”

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