Palestinians gather in front of the gate of Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza during a protest against the blockade, in the southern Gaza Strip July 3, 2017. .
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
In an unprecedented move, Egyptian intelligence officials on Friday attended a Hamas rally for the Palestinians who were killed in last week’s clash with an elite IDF unit in the southern Gaza Strip. The Egyptian officials also offered condolences to the families of the slain Palestinians, including Hamas military commander Sheikh Nur Baraka.
The visit, the first of its kind, is seen as a gesture of goodwill on the part of the Egyptians toward Hamas. The delegation, which is headed by Ahmed Abdel Khaleq, head of the “Palestinian Portfolio” in Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, left the Gaza Strip on Saturday after holding talks with leaders of Hamas and several Palestinian groups.
The rally, which was held in Khan Yunis, was organized by Hamas’s military wing, Izaddin al-Qassam. Abdel Khaleq was filmed with masked members of Qassam. He also appeared offering condolences to the families of the seven Palestinians killed by the IDF and kissing the hands of some of their children.
The Egyptian official received a warm welcome as he arrived at the rally together with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.
Speaking at the memorial service, Sinwar warned Israel not to test Hamas again.
“I advise Israel not to try and test us again,” he said. “This time you did not have a lot of casualties and you managed to rescue your special forces. You should not try again, because next time you will have to release thousands of [Palestinian] prisoners.”
Sinwar said that he had spoken to Mohamed Def, the commander of Hamas’s military wing, who told him that Tel Aviv and Gush Dan will be targeted in the next round of fighting.
“Then first barrage to hit Tel Aviv will surprise Israel,” Sinwar quoted Def as saying.
At the rally, Sinwar waved a handgun which he claimed Hamas had seized during the clash with the elite IDF unit.
Earlier, the Egyptian security delegation also toured the sites of the weekly protests along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel
. The protests, which began last March, were held under the motto “Normalization is a Treason and Crime” – a reference to the apparent warming up of relations between Israel and some Gulf countries.
Abdel Khaleq and his team arrived in the Gaza Strip last Thursday in the context of Cairo’s continued effort to achieve a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel. Before leaving the Gaza Strip, Abdel Khaleq said that Egypt will pursue its effort to help the Palestinians living there and achieve a truce between Hamas and Israel.
Sinwar said after meeting the Egyptian intelligence officials on Friday that Hamas will not allow Israel to launch another “aggression” against the Gaza Strip. He added that the weekly protests, which Palestinians call the March of Return, will continue despite efforts to achieve a truce.
Sources close to Hamas claimed on Saturday that the Egyptians assured Sinwar and other Hamas leaders that there was no change in the Israeli position toward the recent understandings to avoid a major military confrontation in the Gaza Strip.
The sources said the assurances came in response to Hamas fears that Israel may launch a military strike in the Gaza Strip to restore its deterrence capability after last week’s elite IDF operation, which resulted in the death of an IDF officer.
The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar said that Hamas warned the Egyptian intelligence officials that an IDF strike would lead to a major and comprehensive escalation and would be seen by Hamas as a declaration of war on the Gaza Strip. According to the newspaper, the Egyptians demanded during their talks with the Hamas leaders that the Palestinians keep a distance from the border with Israel and stop launching arson kites and balloons toward Israeli communities for the next three weeks.
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