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Qatari envoy to Gaza confirms existence of indirect Israel-Hamas talks

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, center, speaks to the protesters during his visit to the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, April 20, 2018.
AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra
Hamas said it was 'willing' and 'flexible' to enter into a 'constructive' dialogue with Israel

Qatar's envoy to the Gaza Strip, Muhammad al-Amadi, confirmed Sunday that indirect talks between Israel and Hamas aimed at cooling tensions and solving a humanitarian crisis in the blockaded Palestinian enclave are underway.

Israeli and Palestinian media reports have long suggested the existence of back channel talks between the foes, with Qatar and Egypt believed to be leading the mediation towards a long-term ceasefire. A Hamas political source told i24NEWS on Saturday that Al-Amadi himself is said to be taking on the expanding role of a mediator “delivering messages” between the neighboring adversaries.

“The US administration knows about the talks,” Al-Amadi told China’s state-run news agency Xinhua during a visit to Gaza on Sunday, referring to ongoing indirect talks between Israel and Hamas.

“We demanded lifting the blockade on Gaza, which suffered three wars...we highlighted to the Americans and Israelis the need to achieve this, and we are working on this matter, but so far we have not reached any results,” Al-Amadi told Xinhua.

The Gaza-based group said it is seeking an “inclusive deal” that encompasses a host of different elements. The source mentioned to i24NEWS the restarting of salary payments to all civil employees in the coastal enclave, after the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority cut wages in a bid to harm Hamas last year.

Other elements of the “package” include the Israeli release of all Palestinian prisoner formerly re-arrested during the Gilad Shalit deal, accompanied by a set of international guarantees that ensure that the released men will not be detained again.

AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra

Also suggested was the creation of a waterway that could ensure a steady flow of goods into Gaza, one location suggested was Cyprus.

Gaza’s almost two million residents face a burgeoning humanitarian crisis characterized by exposure to pollution, fuel shortages and limited access to clean drinking water. Alongside the insufficient infrastructure, the population labors under restrictive Israeli and Egyptian blockades, daily blackouts and sky-high unemployment.

The Hamas official told i24NEWS that the group is looking for “permanent” solutions to the strip’s catastrophic challenges that are both humanitarian and economic. He said Hamas “is ready to discuss all positive ideas and its leadership is willing to accept a deal that would help lift the international isolation its under."

Whilst Hamas does not trust Israel, the official said the groups political leadership is “willing” and “flexible” to enter into a “constructive” discussion that would surprise all. However, he explained that internal factional disputes between Hamas’ political and military wing may hamper efforts to reach an eventual conclusive agreement.

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, is more inflexible and in addition, is reportedly seeking a release of Palestinian prisoners.

According to a report by Israel’s Channel 10 news on Saturday, senior Hamas figure Ismail Radwan said, "Israel is not serious about a prisoner exchange deal, and on the day that Israel meets our conditions, including the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, we will be ready."

Qatar and Israel, whilst they posses no formal diplomatic ties, have a somewhat more complex relationship.

AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

In an interview with Reuters earlier this year, al-Amadi trumpeted Qatar’s cooperation with Israel in a bid to improve the humanitarian situation in the Strip. At the time, he argued it was proof of his country’s growing distance with Hamas, contrary to the information provided by the Hamas source.

In February, al-Amadi said that he had developed a cordial but pragmatic working relationship with his Israeli counterpart, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who serves as the defense ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

The Hamas source also told i24NEWS that, al-Amadi suggested the group releases a 30 second video clarifying the state of Israeli captured by Hamas to prove whether they are dead or alive. Hamas currently holds the bodies of two slain soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul as well as three other civilians, Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Jumma Abu Ghanima.

Hamas reaffirmed that his movement was dealing positively with Al-Amadi's efforts. However, one issue the the Hamas official said his group will not discuss is its relationship with Iran.

"Iran is a great supporter of the Palestinian cause," the official told i24NEWS. “Tehran and Hamas have a special relationship and Iran continues its consistent position in supporting the resistance."

Meanwhile, in an effort led by the Trump’s administration to stave off a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Middle East envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani on Thursday. This followed on from a meeting with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Jordan’s King Abdullah in which the US delegation was seeking to persuade its Arab allies to invest millions of dollars in relief funds for the coastal enclave.

Reporting by i24NEWS Senior Middle East correspondent Mohammad Al-Kassim

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