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Tensions with Egypt mount as Abbas rejects prospective Israel-Hamas truce

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gestures as he chairs a Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah on April 30, 2018
ABBAS MOMANI (AFP)

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of an Egyptian-mediated peace deal between Israel and Hamas to end the recent surge in violence is creating friction between Cairo and Ramallah, the London-based Al-Hayat daily newspaper reported on Sunday.

Relations between the PA and Egypt are said to be “very tense”, the report claimed citing Palestinian sources.

For months, both the United Nations and Egypt have been mediating between Hamas and Israel in order to bring to violence along the Gaza border and also ease conditions in the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave.

Lebanon’s Al-Maydeen TV citing Hamas officials, reported on Friday that the ceasefire negotiations were in “the final stretch.”

Abbas however, insists that Egyptian efforts prioritize intra-Palestinian reconciliation between his Fatah party and its rival Hamas, ahead of any ceasefire agreement with Israel, which he would eventually seek to play a central role in. He is endeavoring to oversee the terms of the deal as Fatah did following the Israel-Hamas war in the summer of 2014.

An Egyptian source told al-Hayat: “We are putting the final touches for all parties to sign the clauses of the agreement, and we expect to announce next week if Fatah helps that to happen.” Fatah has not yet participated in the Cairo negotiations.

Last week, Abbas reportedly declined to meet with Egypt’s intelligence chief General Abbas Kamel who made a flying visit to Israel on Wednesday to continue thrashing out the long-term Israel and Hamas truce.

SAID KHATIB (AFP/File)

Islamist movement Hamas and the PA, led by secular movement Fatah, have failed to implement previous reconciliation deals aimed at ending their decade-long split, alleviating humanitarian suffering in Gaza, and providing a united front for the Palestinians to face down an increasingly hostile US administration and right-wing Israeli government.

Abbas has repeatedly rejected any plan for Gaza in which Hamas’ armed faction was left intact arguing that it would legitimize the group’s rival administration and weaken the status of the PA among Palestinians. In turn, he claims, it could the stage for a future Hamas political takeover of the West Bank.

Palestinian sources told al-Hayat that Abbas wants PA control “from end to end, and below and above ground” a likely reference to the network of military tunnels and weapons controlled by Hamas in Gaza.

At the same time, Abbas has stressed that nothing short of one state would be acceptable. "Reconciliation means that unity will return to normal, we will not agree to a separate state in Gaza and self-rule in the West Bank," he said on Saturday.

“Either we take control of authority as it is in Gaza and the West Bank – with one state, one system, one law and one weapon – or they [Hamas] takes control instead [in Gaza]," Wafa quoted Abbas in what seemed to be a message for Hamas to stop negotiating with Israel independently of the PA.

During a meeting of the PLO’s second highest decision-making body, the Palestinian Central Council on Wednesday, Abbas also accused Hamas of lacking “intentions to achieve reconciliation.”

Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense

- Terms of Hamas-Israel truce -

As the terms of the potential ceasefire undergo back-and-forth deliberation speculation has mounted over the details.

The proposal under discussion is said to include a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the restoration of control over the enclave to the Abbas-led PA and the advancement of a number of humanitarian projects.

Hezbollah-affiliated media network al-Mayadeen published a report on Thursday claiming that Qatar will play a large role in financing the arrangement, funding Hamas officials’ salaries as well as fuel for the Strip.

The establishment of a direct shipping route between Gaza and Cyprus was also referenced, with Israel's Hadashot TV reporting that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman conditioned the building of the seaport on the return of the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens being held captive by Hamas.

Hamas is also insisting that in exchange for the captives’ release Israel free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners re-arrested following an earlier prisoner exchange deal in 2011.

Israel’s easing of its enforced air, land and sea blockade on the strip has also been deliberated. Last week Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing goods crossing, after closing it to most deliveries for more than a month over border tensions. However, on Sunday it announced the closure of the Erez crossing, a separate crossing for pedestrians.

Israel and Hamas have been brought to the brink of war in three separate major flare-ups since July, engaging in some of the heaviest fighting since the last war fought between them in 2014.

The most recent conflagration earlier this month saw 48-hours of intense fighting during which Hamas fired some 200 rockets into Israel, which retaliated with airstrikes on some 150 targets in the Palestinian enclave.

The two sides have fought three wars since 2008, and both appear reluctant to start a fourth.

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