Hamas to discuss Rafah reopening

Delegation from Gaza visits Egypt with extra caution after assassination in attempt to solve border crisis.

Fixing Rafah 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Fixing Rafah 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A senior Hamas delegation from the Gaza Strip crossed the border into the Egyptian town of el-Arish late Thursday for talks with Egyptian government officials on the possibility of reopening the Rafah border crossing. The visit is seen as an attempt by Hamas and Egypt to solve the crisis that erupted after Hamas supporters knocked down the barrier along the border with Egypt. Meanwhile, Hamas leaders in Syria and Lebanon have been advised by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services to take precautionary measures to ensure their safety in the aftermath of Tuesday's assassination of Hizbullah operative Imad Mughniyeh. Sources close to Hamas confirmed that Mughniyeh had been in touch with several top Hamas figures in Damascus and Beirut, including Khaled Mashaal, Musa Abu Marzouk and Osama Hamdan. Relations between Hamas and Egypt reached a boiling point after Egyptian government officials accused Hamas of dispatching terror cells to Sinai to launch attacks on Israeli tourists. The crisis reached its peak when Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit threatened to "break the legs" of Palestinian infiltrators. Hamas representatives in the Gaza Strip expressed hope that the visit would improve its relations with Egypt. "This is a very positive development," a Hamas legislator in Gaza City told The Jerusalem Post. "It shows that Egypt understands that there can be no solution to the problem without Hamas." The Hamas delegation that arrived in el-Arish is headed by Mahmoud Zahar. Earlier this month, Zahar and other senior Hamas officials were summoned to Cairo in a failed attempt to solve the border crisis. The talks failed because Hamas insisted on playing a central role in running the Rafah border crossing, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was also in Cairo for separate talks with the Egyptians, demanded exclusive control over the terminal. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the talks at el-Arish would focus on the reopening of the Rafah border crossing. He pointed out that the Egyptians had promised to pursue negotiations with Hamas and the PA over the border crisis. A top PA official in Ramallah expressed surprise at the visit of the Hamas delegation to Egypt. The official told the Post that the PA would not accept any deal that gives Hamas a say in managing the Rafah border crossing. "We have made our position very clear to the Egyptians," he said. "The Palestinian Authority is the only party authorized to run the Rafah border crossing."