The Gaza Strip will be connected to Egypt’s electricity grid and natural gas pipeline “in the near future,” a Hamas official in Gaza said Sunday.

Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahar told the Palestinian news agency Ma’an that the matter was raised recently with the Egyptian leadership and will be discussed again during Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Cairo this week. Gaza is currently connected to Israel’s electricity grid, while Qatar has pledged 600,000 liters of fuel a day to activate Gaza’s power station — fuel that began entering Gaza by land through Israel in June.

On the political front, Zahar told Maan that Egypt will soon send two delegations to the Palestinian territories at Hamas’s behest — one to Gaza and the other to the West Bank — to ascertain which of the Palestinian factions, Fatah or Hamas, is at fault for the standstill in reconciliation talks. Zahar said he expected Egypt to lift the travel restrictions on Palestinians leaving Gaza for Egypt by the end of the year.

‘To say that Gaza has removed the occupation is an indisputable given. But that Hamas will declare complete independence in Gaza is completely out of the question’

Repeated attempts to form a Palestinian unity government have failed in past months, with each of the factions blaming the other for political oppression in its respective territory.

Zahar denied reports that Hamas would soon declare the Gaza Strip “a liberated territory,” although he did say that Gaza was liberated from Israeli occupation “from a security and military standpoint.”

Another Hamas official, Lebanon-based Osama Hamdan, told the Quds Press news agency Sunday that Hamas intended to strengthen ties with Egypt in order to “serve liberation” rather than fragment the Palestinian cause. He denied that Hamas would soon declare an end to occupation over the Gaza Strip.

“To say that Gaza has removed the occupation is an indisputable given,” Hamdan told the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Information Center Sunday. “But for Hamas to declare complete independence in Gaza is completely out of the question.”

Zahar seemed unconcerned by the prospect of Gaza being economically bound to Egypt

Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, evacuating all the Israeli settlements there and removing all military presence. It rejects Western claims that the Gaza Strip is still an occupied territory, but maintains a naval blockade and other security restrictions designed to try to prevent the smuggling of weaponry to what it calls Gaza’s terrorist government.

In his interview with Ma’an, Zahar seemed unconcerned by the prospect of Gaza being economically bound to Egypt, claiming that increased commerce with Egypt would help develop the impoverished Sinai peninsula. He claimed that the November 2005 agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority regulating Palestinian traffic in the Rafah Border Crossing — which was remotely monitored by Israeli security personnel — only served Israeli interests. The agreement was effectively annulled with the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006, after which Israel shut the crossing.

“This agreement commercially tied us to the occupation to the tune of $3 billion of trade,” Zahar told Maan. “Why shouldn’t we enjoy reciprocal commercial trade with Egypt and the Arab states through the Rafah Crossing?” he asked.