Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have called on militant organization Hamas to end the annual weekly protests it is holding for the "Great March of Return," according to an Egyptian source. An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official was anonymously quoted as saying that, in exchange for halting the protests, Egypt would ensure that the Rafah border crossing, which Egypt controls, would be regularly opened. The source said that the agreement had come under the direction of the Saudis.
"The situation in Gaza is nearing an explosion towards anyone blockading (the Strip)," the source said, "and therefore there is a fear that Palestinian anger will turn toward Egypt in the coming weeks." The source also added that Saudi and Egyptian officials had opened contacts with Hamas leaders to urge calm in Gaza.The London-based Al Hayat newspaper reported that an Egyptian delegation was being sent to Gaza to meet with Hamas leadership, and one source told the paper that the head of Egypt's General Intelligence Service, General Abbas Kamel, had been tasked by Saudi Arabia to send a team to "neutralize the explosive situation." Earlier in the week, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman asked Kamel to pass on a message to Hamas leaders concerning the protests, saying that Israel has "no tolerance" for the goings-on in Gaza. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in communicating with Hamas, are also reportedly aiming to prevent greater confrontations between the Palestinians and Israel.
Palestinians take part in protests for the "Great March of Return" in Gaza (credit: Reuters)
While Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979 and have retained a relatively stable relationship since then, no official contact exists between Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, Israeli officials said in the fall that covert contacts had been made between the two countries. Saudi Arabia's recent ruling to allow India Air flights between Tel Aviv and New Delhi to fly over its sovereign air space signals a general warming trend between Israel and the region's largest Sunni state. Friday's protests marked the second week of the "Great March of Return" in Gaza. Crowds of approximately 20,000 turned out to protest on the border between Gaza and Israel. Ten Gazans, including two minors and one journalist, were killed in the clashes. While estimates of the number of protestors injured vary, it is assumed that over 1,000 Palestinians were wounded. The protests are expected to continue each Friday for the next several weeks.
Indian airliner makes history by flying to Israel via Saudi airspace, March 23, 2018 (Reuters).mp4