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Egypt proposes demilitarization of Gaza in exchange for Israel lifting blockade: report


5 min read
Hamas militants in Gaza, July 25 2017
Mahmud Hams / AFP ©Hamas militants in Gaza, July 25 2017

The proposal has reportedly been presented to US security officials and is backed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia

Egypt has reportedly proposed the complete demilitarization of the Gaza Strip in exchange for Israel lifting its land, air, and sea blockade on the territory as the next part of an arrangement to rehabilitate the impoverished Palestinian enclave and bring long-term calm to the volatile frontier.

A report by the Israel Hayom daily cited Egyptian and Palestinian security officials in Gaza and Ramallah as saying that the arrangement would see a supervised withdrawal of all types of weapons from the Hamas-run Strip, with the exception of light arms, in exchange for the lifting of the Israeli blockade.

According to the report, Gaza’s domestic affairs would remain under the auspices of Hamas or a united political entity of all Palestinian factions in the Strip headed by Hamas. Only small arms would remain in Gaza for use by internal security forces, and they would be limited in scope and subject to a strict monitoring mechanism.

In exchange, the report said, Israel and Egypt would be expected to lift their respective blockades allowing for the opening of a sea channel into the Gaza port to facilitate direct imports and exports, while large-scale projects in infrastructure, employment, economy, health and education would be implemented with funding from international donors.

According to the report, both Israel and Egypt assess that such an arrangement could be implemented within three to five years. But Hamas and other armed Palestinian factions have resolutely stated their refusal to disarm.

SAID KHATIB (AFP/File)Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the militant wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, patrol in the southern Gaza Strip

Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has reportedly said it would only support the disarmament of Hamas and other factions if it was carried out by the Palestinian Authority.

The arrangement has been presented to US security officials, the report said, and other regional players -- including Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- are said to back the proposal. 

Parties are also waiting until after Israel’s April 9 national elections to accelerate the proposal, according to the report.

The proposed arrangement would mark the second stage to an informal agreement struck in November 2018 which has seen Qatar funnel millions of dollars into Gaza each month in exchange for a relative calm on the volatile border, where violent protests have continued to take place since March 2018.

The deal has become a major bone of political contention both in Israel and in Gaza, however.

Critics of the agreement within Israel -- among them many candidates currently campaigning to unseat Netanyahu in the upcoming vote -- warn that the funds will be used to support Hamas members and terror activities directed at Israel and will do little to nothing to stop violent escalations on the border.

SAID KHATIB (AFP/File)Fighters from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement, take part in a military show in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis on December 5, 2017

The Israel Hayom report cited security sources in Cairo and senior Palestinian officials in Gaza and Ramallah as saying that both Israel and Egypt have accepted Hamas as the “lesser evil” in Gaza, for now at least, assessing that the humanitarian conditions in the enclave would make it difficult for the Palestinian Authority to assume control whether by agreement or due to the collapse of Hamas as a result of internal dissent or a military confrontation with Israel.

The Egyptian sources said that Israel’s “soft” approach to continued provocations from Gaza stems from the fact that it does not want to see the collapse of the Hamas regime out of concern that more radical elements would replace it.

Rogue elements in the Strip have continued to launch rockets and incendiary devices affixed to balloons over the border ahead of the one year anniversary of the so-called "Great March of Return" protests on March 30.

Last week, two rockets were fired from Gaza toward the center of Israel, triggering rocket sirens in Tel Aviv for the first time since the last war with Gaza in 2014.

Israel attributed responsibility for the overnight rockets to Hamas, despite official denial from the Gaza-based militant group.