Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh looks on as he attends the funeral of Palestinian Hamas militants who were killed in Israeli tank fire, at a mosque in Gaza City July 26, 2018.
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
Egypt has resumed its diplomatic efforts to ease tensions in the Gaza Strip ahead of the weekly Hamas-sponsored demonstrations near the border with Israel, which were expected to continue on Friday.
The Egyptians are also hoping to persuade Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to end their ongoing dispute, which reached its peak earlier this week when the PA ordered its employees to abandon the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt – a move that has resulted in the closure of the terminal.
As part of the diplomatic drive, Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in the Gaza Strip on Thursday and immediately met with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar.
The delegation, headed by General Intelligence Service officials Ayman Badi and Ahmed Abdel Khaleq, entered the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing with Israel. It was not clear how long the Egyptian officials were planning to stay in the coastal enclave.
Sources in the Gaza Strip said that the high-ranking Egyptian intelligence officials were also expected to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah for talks with Israeli and PA officials.
The sources claimed that the Egyptian officials were expected to put pressure on Hamas to prevent violent clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and the IDF during Friday’s protests, which are being held in the context of the so-called “March of Return.”
Hamas, for its part, is expected to urge the Egyptians to reopen the Rafah border crossing, which was closed after the PA withdrew its employees from the terminal earlier this week.
The employees had been stationed at the terminal in accordance with understandings reached between Fatah and Hamas – under the auspices of Egypt – in October 2017.
Hamas official Husam Badran expressed hope that the visit of the Egyptian intelligence officials to the Gaza Strip will lead to the reopening of the Rafah border crossing.
The Egyptian officials’ visit to the Gaza Strip also came days after Abbas met in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi. Sisi, according to Palestinian and Egyptian sources, is reported to have urged Abbas to refrain from imposing new punitive measures against the Gaza Strip.
The latest flare up in tensions between the two rival Palestinian parties came after Fatah accused Hamas of detaining hundreds of Fatah members in the Gaza Strip in the past two weeks. According to Fatah, the Hamas crackdown was aimed at preventing its followers from holding a rally in the Gaza Strip to celebrate the 54th anniversary of the launching of the first Fatah armed attack against Israel.
Hamas, for its part, has accused the PA security forces of arresting dozens of its followers in the West Bank in recent weeks.
The Egyptian officials, according to the sources, will urge Hamas and the PA to release all Palestinians who were recently arrested in the Gaza Strip and West Bank as a first step toward easing tensions between the two sides. The Egyptian initiative also calls for ending the war of words that erupted between the PA and Hamas in the past few days, the sources said.
Abbas’s recent decision to dissolve the Palestinian parliament, which is called the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), has further intensified tensions between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated PA. Hamas has rejected the decision, arguing that it was illegal and unconstitutional.
Palestinian sources said on Thursday that the PA has cut off the salaries of 47 Hamas parliament members. PA and Fatah officials have threatened to impose additional sanctions on the Gaza Strip in response to the Hamas crackdown on Fatah there.
The PLC has been inoperative since 2007, when Hamas violently seized control of the Strip. However, Hamas representatives have since been convening their own sessions of the PLC in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Hamas confirmed that a planned visit to Moscow by its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has been “postponed.”
The PA ambassador to Moscow had been quoted earlier as saying that Haniyeh’s visit to Moscow, which was scheduled for next week, was canceled.
Musa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said that the Russian foreign ministry has notified his movement of the decision to delay Haniyeh’s visit. He claimed that the visit was postponed due to the Russian foreign minister’s busy schedule.
The PA and Israel had protested to Russia against the invitation of the Hamas leader.
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