Abbas, Sisi meet as Gaza deal in the works

Draft agreement reportedly includes lifting 70% of border restrictions, return of Israeli soldiers’ bodies and civilians only after three years

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November 4, 2018 00:44
4 minute read.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo

A handout picture provided by the PPO shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo on May 9, 2016. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / PPO / THAER GHANAIM)

 
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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday in Sharm el-Sheikh, as part of his country’s efforts toward a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, known to be affiliated with Hamas, published details of a draft agreement under discussion, which would be implemented in stages over three years.

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Among the conditions would be an agreement by Israel to lift 70% of its restrictions on goods and movement in and out of Gaza, including at its two border crossings at Kerem Shalom and Erez. United Nations infrastructure and energy projects would move forward and would create 30,000 jobs for Palestinians in Gaza.

In addition, Egypt would agree to ensure that its crossing into Gaza at Rafah would remain open. The Gaza fishing zone would be extended to 14 nautical miles.

Hamas would at first restrain the violence at Gaza’s border with Israel and then stop it all together.

The Palestinian Authority would eventually pay 80% of salaries for public-sector workers in Gaza, but those salaries would initially be paid for by Qatar.

The report emphasized that only after three successful years of the agreement – with close supervision by Russia and the United Nations – Egypt will take steps towards a prisoner exchange that would include the release of the two Israeli civilian captives in Gaza and the bodies of the two soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed during the 2014 Gaza war.

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Israel in the last month has threatened Hamas with harsh military action, but has refrained from making good on those threats to give Egypt a chance to broker some kind of an understanding. It also maintains that Gaza violence could be thwarted if the humanitarian situation there improved.

An Israeli diplomatic source confirmed on Saturday night that efforts were ongoing toward a deal.

“It is important to exhaust every option to reach an agreement that would eliminate the factor that is igniting the Gaza violence: the humanitarian situation,” the source said.

Initial arrangements have already been made to alleviate the humanitarian situation, such as the facilitation of shipments of Qatari-funded fuel for the Gaza power plant and the payment of Gaza civil servants salaries, the source said.

These initial arrangements “almost didn’t take place and they could fail at any hour.”

It would be preferable for Abbas to pay the salaries, the source said, noting that it was important to ensure that the money was not used for terror activity.

Israel is prepared for a second possibility; if the situation explodes, “we are prepared to exert a great deal of force.”

On Friday, Hadar Goldin’s parents Simha and Leah met with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. According to a release they sent to the media, Eisenkot said that “all projects against Gaza must be stopped until the soldiers and civilians return.”

He reportedly said that, “If there is political will, the boys could be returned within a week.”

Goldin’s parents said that: “From the difficult meeting, we concluded that the prime minister does not want to return the soldiers [Hadar and Oron] back to Israel.”

They added that Netanyahu was once again playing with their feelings. They were particularly upset that he would agree to an arrangement that allowed for the payment of Gaza civil-servant salaries before ensuring the return of the Israeli captives.

“We ask the people of Israel to demand that the prime minister and defense minister fulfill the commitment they made that no agreement would be reached without the return of the soldiers,” Simha and Leah said.

The IDF confirmed that a meeting had taken place, but said the Goldin family had only selectively released statements from the meeting that did not completely reflect what had been said in the room.

Egyptian officials have been shuttling between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank in recent weeks as part of their efforts, along with the UN, to reach a deal.

On Friday, an Egyptian delegation made a rare visit to the Palestinian side of the Gaza’s border with Israel.

As part of the initial steps to prepare the ground for some type of cease-fire understanding, Hamas reigned in the weekly violence along the southern border, which began on March 30 as part of the Hamas-led “Great March of Return” campaign.

The protests and riots have attracted tens of thousands of people. Last week, 16,000 protesters participated – but this Friday, only a few thousand showed up, many of them staying away from the barrier. Still, the IDF reported that participants threw burning tires and launched a number of incendiary devices.

Gaza health officials reported no fatalities, but said seven people were wounded by Israeli gunfire. Israel’s military said that soldiers had used “riot dispersal means” and opened fire “in accordance with standard operating procedures.”

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said: “We are monitoring the promises, and it looks like they will become true. We are monitoring with our people. The occupation [Israel] is on test, not us. The [Egyptian] mediators who we respect are following [the case] and we are sure that they are able to rein in the occupation.”

There were only a few details released from the Abbas-Sisi meeting.

According to the Palestinian News Agency WAFA, the meeting was also attended by Azzam al-Ahmad and Hussein al-Sheikh, both members of the Fatah Central Committee, as well as Abbas’s adviser on diplomatic affairs Majdi al-Khalidi and Palestine’s representative in Egypt, Diab al-Louh.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and the head of the Egyptian intelligence, General Abbas Kamal, also took part in the meeting.

Reuters and the Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.

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