Israel and Hamas have been engaged in indirect negotiations in Egypt, most recently on Thursday, to resolve the remaining details of the ceasefire agreement that ended November’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
Senior Israeli defense officials have met in Cairo over the past several weeks to negotiate, indirectly with Hamas, the reopening of the Rafah Border Crossing with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to construction materials and basic commodities such as gasoline, Channel 10 reported Friday night. Egyptian defense officials have served as the intermediaries in the contacts.
The Israeli and Hamas officials are reportedly also indirectly negotiating the opening of Israeli border crossings for the export of Palestinian agricultural produce, and possibly a resolution of the issue of Palestinian security detainees in Israeli prisons.
Israel established a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2007 in order to prevent arms-smuggling into the enclave. Hamas violently removed its Fatah rivals from the Strip when it seized power there that year, killing many of them in the process.
According to the agreement that ended Israel’s eight-day air campaign against terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip in November, “opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods” was to be dealt with after the initial cessation of hostilities.
Israel in December started allowing long-banned building materials into the Gaza Strip, one of the concessions to Hamas under the agreement.
Until now the back channel talks have been kept under wraps, but Arabic media reported on Thursday that an Israeli defense delegation visited Cairo to meet with Egyptian counterparts and discuss regional security issues; evidently, these Egyptian officials are the intermediaries in the contacts with Hamas.
According to the report in Egypt’s Al-Masry al-Youm, the delegation of four officials arrived in Cairo in a military aircraft that waited for them on the runway.
The meeting with Egypt’s senior intelligence officials, led by Major General Rafet Shahata, reportedly lasted a few hours and covered, among other things, Israel’s reported attack on a Syrian convoy carrying weapons to Hezbollah; the security situation in the Sinai; protection of the joint border; Palestinian reunification; and the resumption of regional peace talks.
Ron Friedman contributed to this report.