The sun sets over the Gaza Strip, as seen from the Israeli side of the border May 15, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Two senior Egyptian officials arrived unexpectedly in the Gaza Strip on Saturday for talks with Hamas leaders aimed at achieving a truce with Israel and ending the ongoing rift between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.
The two Egyptian emissaries, Ahmed Abdel Khaleq – who is in charge of the “Palestinian Portfolio” in Egypt’s Mukhabarat (General Intelligence Service), and Mustafa Shehata – a top Egyptian diplomat, entered the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing with Israel, and immediately held talks with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and other top officials of the movement.
The visit comes amid mounting tensions between Hamas and Fatah, and continued violence along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
On Friday, one Palestinian was killed and scores injured during Hamas-sponsored Great March of Return protests near the border with Israel. The Palestinian killed in the clashes with IDF soldiers was identified as 25-year-old Karim Kallab.
Sources in the Gaza Strip said that Egypt is trying to avoid a further deterioration in relations between Hamas and Fatah, and convince the two rival parties to implement previous “reconciliation” agreements they had signed in the past few years.
Last week, a senior Fatah delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmed held talks in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence officials on ways of ending the crisis with Hamas.
The Fatah officials are reported to have told the Egyptians that the only way to achieve a breakthrough was for Hamas to unconditionally hand control over the Gaza Strip to the Ramallah-based government. They also rejected Hamas’s demand that the PA government incorporate thousands of Hamas employees and disarm as part of any “reconciliation” agreement.
The sources said the Egyptians are particularly worried that Abbas would impose more sanctions on the Gaza Strip if Hamas does not comply with these demands. Abbas is said to have informed the Egyptians that he will halt all PA funding to the Gaza Strip
if Cairo’s efforts to end the Hamas-Fatah power struggle fail.
“The Egyptians are exerting heavy pressure on Hamas and Fatah to end their dispute,” the sources added. “This could be the last attempt by the Egyptians to convince the two sides to end their rivalry.”
Palestinian political analysts were skeptical that Egypt will be able to convince Hamas and Fatah to reach a new “reconciliation” agreement. The pointed out that the gap between the two sides remains as wide as ever.
The analysts also voiced pessimism regarding the prospects of achieving a breakthrough in Egypt’s efforts to reach a truce agreement between Israel and the Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist groups.
“I don’t believe the Egyptians are carrying anything new,” political analyst Akram Atallah told the Arabi21 website. “Israel is no longer talking about a truce, and the issue of reconciliation has reached a dead end in wake of mutual accusations between Hamas and Fatah. I believe the visit of the Egyptian officials is aimed at preventing a confrontation between with Israel.”
Another analyst, Ibrahim Abrash, said that the Egyptians were seeking to send a message to Hamas and Fatah that Cairo will not allow other parties, especially Turkey and Qatar, to intervene in the issues of the proposed truce and the power struggle between the two Palestinian sides. He too ruled out the possibility that the Egyptians would succeed in their fresh effort.
Khalil al-Hayah, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, warned on Saturday that any new sanctions imposed by Abbas would “backfire.”
He told the Gaza-based Felestin newspaper that Abbas would “isolate himself from the Palestinian people” once he imposes new sanctions on the Gaza Strip. “History and the people will overrun Abbas if he takes such measures,” the Hamas official said. “How can Abbas claim to represent the people when he is imposing sanctions on them? The world won’t accept his leadership and won’t applaud him. The world will tell him: Go back and lift the siege you are imposing on your people before you talk on their behalf.”
According to Hayah, Egypt and the United Nations were close to achieving a truce agreement in the Gaza Strip last month, but these efforts were foiled by Abbas and Fatah. He said that the weekly protests along the border with Israel, which began March 30, will continue until the blockade on the Gaza Strip is completely lifted.
Hamas leader Yayha Sinwar, who participated in Friday’s protests, said that the demonstrations would continue until the Palestinians achieve all their goals. “We have confidence in God that we will soon pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem],” he said.
Meanwhile, Fatah officials continued their verbal attacks on Hamas over the weekend. Fatah spokesman Atef Abu Seif accused Hamas of complicity in Israeli and US “schemes” against the Palestinians. He also accused Hamas of thwarting Egyptian efforts to end the dispute with Fatah and hampering the PA leadership’s “struggle” to foil US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-unveiled plan for peace in the Middle East.
Jamal Muheissen, member of the Fatah Central Committee, condemned Hamas’s recurring attacks on Abbas on the eve of the PA president’s speech before the UN General Assembly. “Hamas is a group that has departed form our people’s national values,” he said.
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