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Egyptian delegation expected in Gaza to mend rift between Palestinian factions

Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas attends a meeting with the Revolutionary Council of the ruling Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah
The continuing conflict has regional and international partners increasingly worried.

Israel and Egypt, the two countries that effectively control the flow of goods and people in and out of the Gaza Strip, have expressed worries about the consequences of the deepening rift between Palestinian factions on the coastal enclave.

All exits from the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing at the border with Egypt are currently barred.

This comes after the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority decided to pull out its border security personnel, in the latest in a tit-for-tat escalation of tensions between the parties.

Tensions have been building up between the two largest Palestinian political formations since the end of last year, despite Egypt's attempts to broker for reconciliation.

Reports in the Palestinian and Israeli press said on Thursday that Israeli officials had contacted their Egyptian counterparts, fearing a continued stranglehold on the strip would have violent repercussions.

According to Lebanese paper Al Akhbar, an Egyptian delegation was expected in Gaza on Thursday to address the situation. Further reports said it was expected to come into the Strip at 2 pm local time on Thursday.

The delegation was reportedly expected to come in through the Israeli-controlled Erez road crossing, indicating that the delegation would likely have been meeting with Palestinian official in Ramallah before coming into Gaza. 

There is less than 100 kilometers between the two points, most of which in Israeli territory.

Rafah is the only other point of entry into the strip and an important lifeline for the embattled Gaza economy.


Increasing isolation

There were signs that the Palestinian Authority's attempts to curb Hamas' popular appeal might backfire in the international arena.

The closure of the Rafah crossing caused a visit to Moscow by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to be indefinitely postponed on Wednesday.

According to Palestinian broadsheet Al-Quds, some sources within Hamas believed that not only the Palestinian Authority, but also other Arab regional powers were putting pressure on Egypt to prevent Haniyeh's trip to the Russian capital.

Lebanese news outlet Al-Mayadeen reported that the Russian government summoned the Palestinian ambassador in Moscow, Abdul Hafiz Nawal, to express their dissatisfaction with the Rafah closure.

Russian foreign ministry sources however, as quoted by Russian state media Russia Today in Arabic, said Nawal came of his own accord.

Deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov assured Nawal that "addressing the current crisis within the Palestinian ranks is a prerequisite for achieving progress" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a view widely shared by other international partners.

The Russian diplomat had earlier conveyed his concerns to a member of Hamas's political bureau in Gaza, Moussa Abu Marzouk.

AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

Hamas attempts to capitalize on the democratic vacuum in Ramallah

The popular appeal of Hamas has been a thorn in Fatah's control over the Palestinian establishment. The leadership in Ramallah is not in favor of giving Haniyeh a chance to extend his reach internationally.

By preventing Haniyeh from leaving the Strip, Abbas gets to keep his international image as the representative of the Palestinian cause.

The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahoronoth reported on Wednesday that the aging Abbas had spent 109 days abroad in 2018.

In return, Hamas has been playing out their righteous outrage, calling out the leadership in Ramallah for undemocratic practices.

The president's term was extended indefinitely by executive decision in 2009, and Hamas is now pushing for his removal from office.


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