Hamas to wind down Gaza protests in exchange for aid deal bypassing PA: sources
Said KHATIB (AFP)
Hamas is preparing to rein in weekly protests along the Gaza border in anticipation of a multilateral arrangement, which excludes the Palestinian Authority, to bring long-term quiet to the Israel-Gaza border in exchange for boosting aid to the Strip.
A Hamas official in Gaza told i24NEWS that expected arrangements, which involve separate channels of support from both Egypt and Qatar, will bring calm to the border with Israel, secure Hamas’ continued rule in the Palestinian enclave, and in later stages, see a prisoner swap with Israel.
An independent source in Gaza informed on the matter confirmed to i24NEWS that progress was being made towards “a major agreement that excludes the Palestinian Authority.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman's spokesperson said he had no comment on the matter, so did the Foreign Ministry's spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.
Israel and Hamas have been brought to the brink of war on multiple occasions in past months as weekly border protests taking place each Friday since March 30 have triggered frequent clashes between the two sides.
Previous attempts by Egypt to negotiate a long term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and bring much-needed humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza recently lost momentum, with Cairo instead turning its focus towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
The Hamas official told i24NEWS that the Palestinian Authority’s rebuff of Egyptian efforts towards reconciliation led Hamas to push for progress on a broad arrangement without the PA’s participation.
At a recent meeting in Cairo, Hamas threatened to evacuate its posts along the Israeli border and allow protests to “explode into chaos” if there were no developments on measures to ease pressure on the group, the official said.
The Hamas official said that a recent deal which saw Qatar commit to financing approximately six months of raised fuel production in Gaza and three months worth of salaries for Hamas civil servants was being implemented in exchange for it winding down the weekly protests, including the launching of incendiary devices into Israel.
Qatari fuel began entering the Strip on Tuesday through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Hashalom border crossing, despite the Palestinian Authority’s staunch opposition to the deal.
Hamas welcomed the transfer of Qatari fuel as "the first step towards easing the siege and the crises in Gaza" and said that "further steps would be taken against the Palestinian Authority."
The PA has criticized the deal and the transfer of fuel to Gaza without its consent, saying it legitimizes Hamas’ rival administration in Gaza.
A Fatah revolutionary council member told i24NEWS that "Hamas' actions, and the actions of those supporting it, are only contributing to the deep division between the Palestinians and they are hurting the Palestinian cause turning it into a humanitarian issue."
PA officials have previously accused the US and its allies of attempting to leverage the humanitarian situation in Gaza in order to force a deal on the Palestinians. The deadlock over Gaza is seen as preventing progress on the long-promised US peace plan, which Abbas has vowed to thwart.
- Abbas sidelined -
Abbas has felt increasingly sidelined by ongoing negotiations, and has said his government would only lift punitive sanctions targeting Hamas if the group agrees to cede control over the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Abbas on Tuesday for what he called the ongoing “low-intensity” conflict between Israel and Gaza, attributing it to the Palestinian Authority’s “suffocation” of the Strip.
Netanyahu was to head a meeting of his security cabinet on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Gaza, after reportedly warning that an offensive would be unavoidable if violence on the border were to once again intensify.
Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel departed Cairo on Tuesday for a series of meetings with the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Jordan during which he was expected to up pressure on Abbas to cooperate with ongoing efforts to reach a long-term solution for Gaza.
According to Egyptian media reports Kamel will tell Abbas that if he does not get on board with reconciliation efforts Cairo will treat Hamas as the sole authority responsible for the Strip.
In yet another blow to the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia are pushing a separate plan to install dissident Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan as the head of an administrative body governing Gaza, a Hamas source told i24NEWS.
Dahlan, a former PA security commander, was Abbas' ally inside the Fatah party until the two had a falling out that led to the former’s expulsion from the party in 2011. He has since been living in exile in the UAE and has previously been in talks with Hamas with an eye to joining a government in the coastal enclave.
The Hamas source said that Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia hope to prop Dahlan up as the figure to forge a deal with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.
A Fatah source told i24NEWS that parallel to steps taken to restore calm to the border and ease pressure in Gaza, “serious talks” were underway towards a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel.
Israel has insisted that any long-term arrangement with Hamas include its release of the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers and at least two Israeli civilians being held by the group in Gaza.
The Fatah source said that Hamas has handed Egypt a list of some 4,000 prisoners it wants released from Israeli prisons -- including Abbas rival Marwan Barghouti -- which has left the Palestinian Authority fuming.
Barghouti -- who is serving out five life sentences for murder and attempted murder over his role in a series of terror attacks during the second Intifada (uprising) -- has remained politically active behind bars and is considered a frontrunner among likely candidates to succeed 82-year-old Abbas and to unify Fatah and Hamas.
Hamas had demanded Barghouti’s release in a previous prisoner exchange deal implemented in 2011, but Israel refused to concede. It would be similarly unlikely to do so in any future deal.
Senior Middle East Correspondent Mohammad Al-Kassim contributed to this report.
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