Abbas agrees to Egypt-mediated ‘calm’ between Israel and Hamas — report

Sissi convinces PA chief to accept temporary truce, which will lead to internal reconciliation and only then to a long-term ceasefire with Israel, Arab paper reports

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh on November 3, 2018. (Credit: Wafa)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh on November 3, 2018. (Credit: Wafa)

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has received Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s approval for efforts to achieve an initial “period of calm” between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the London-based Arabic paper Al-Hayat newspaper reported Thursday.

The first period of such a calm would last two to three weeks, followed by a longer six-month period.

The paper said Sissi told Abbas that after calm is achieved, Egypt will move forward on efforts to reach reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah movement and bring the two territories back under unified rule.

Egypt would then work to reach a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s armed groups, the report said. It cited “reliable” Palestinian sources.

Sissi reportedly told Abbas a deal would be “an opportunity for the people of Gaza to breathe,” a suggestion the PA chief agreed to.

In this photo from May 1, 2017, Yehiyeh Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a news conference in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

The paper added that Israel had agreed to transfer $90 million (likely from Qatar) over a six-month period to pay Hamas-employed government workers in the Strip, under UN monitoring. It was also said to agree, as part of the initial calm, to increase exports from Gaza including vegetables, furniture, clothing and other goods.

Arabic media reports have said that if achieved, a ceasefire would include at least a partial lifting of Israel’s restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza.

Israel holds that its restrictions on movement serve security purposes including preventing the entry of weapons into the Strip.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has controlled Gaza since it ousted the Fatah-dominated PA in 2007 from the coastal enclave. The two Palestinian factions have remained deeply divided ever since. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.

Ramallah-based PA officials have previously insisted a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation should precede any possible ceasefire. They have also contended that the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas chairs, is the sole party with the legitimacy to negotiate a ceasefire with Israel.

Hamas terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip, August 21, 2018.

Over the past several years both Fatah and Hamas have signed a number of agreements, including an Egyptian-brokered deal in October 2017, to bring Gaza under one government and advance reconciliation efforts, but the rival parties have failed to implement them.

In August, an unnamed senior Fatah official told Israel’s Channel 10 that Abbas had declared that “over my dead body, there will be a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.”

The same month al-Sheikh told Palestinian Authority television: “It is not possible to talk about a ceasefire before we achieve reconciliation.”

According to a report by Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper on Saturday, the emerging ceasefire agreement aimed at calming months of violence on the Israel-Gaza border will last for three years and see a significant easing of the blockade on the Hamas-controlled territory. According to the report, the deal being brokered by Egypt stipulates a gradual stop to the ongoing, Hamas-orchestrated violent border protests and maritime flotillas over the next two months. In addition, Hamas will be obligated to punish Gazans caught engaging in violent demonstrations along the border with Israel.

Illustrative: Protesters wave Palestinian flags while riding a truck full with tires near the fence of the Gaza Strip border with Israel during a protest east of Gaza City, Friday, October 26, 2018. (AP/Adel Hana)

In return, Egypt will permanently open its Rafah border crossing and lift 70 percent of its blockade on the Hamas-controlled territory, the report said, citing officials familiar with the emerging agreement. Al-Akhbar said the deal would require Israel to grant 5,000 work permits for Gazans, and expand the Strip’s fishing zone from nine to 14 nautical miles.

At a later stage after the deal is implemented, Al-Akhbar, said Egypt would work to advance a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

Border protests, which have included many violent acts, have taken place weekly since March 30. Their organizers have said the protests aim to achieve the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands which are now part of Israel, and pressure the Jewish state to lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.

But last Friday’s border rallies were largely peaceful. Deputy Hamas chief in Gaza Khalil al-Hayya Hayya said the protests were scaled down to give the ceasefire efforts a chance, according to the Associated Press.

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