Abbas meets with Egyptian intel chief on reconciliation with Hamas

Cairo is reportedly pressuring PA not to impose new sanctions on Gaza over bombing of Hamdallah convoy

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

File: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
File: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in his office in Ramallah on Tuesday with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Mustafa, who delivered to him an “important” letter from President Abedel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The visit is seen by Palestinians in the context of Egypt’s continued efforts to end the power struggle between the Hamas terror group that rules the Gaza Strip and Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.

During the meeting, the two sides discussed the latest developments in the Palestinian territories and Egyptian efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation, the PA’s news agency Wafa reported.

The agency did not reveal details about Sissi’s “important” letter to Abbas.

However, the surprise visit of the intelligence chief to Ramallah came amid reports that the Egyptians have been pressuring Abbas to refrain from imposing new sanctions on the Gaza Strip in response to the March 13 bombing of the convoy of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in the northern Gaza Strip.

Neither Hamdallah nor PA intelligence chief, Majed Faraj, who was part of the convoy, was hurt in the attack.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi speaks during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt, on December 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

Musa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas leader, earlier this week reportedly told Russian officials during a visit to Moscow that “Salafi” jihadists with links to a PA security agency in the West Bank were behind the attack.

“The Egyptian president recently warned Abbas not to take new measures that could aggravate the situation in the Gaza Strip,” said a PA official in Ramallah. “The Egyptians are worried that such measures will have disastrous repercussions on the Palestinians.”

Following the bombing of the convoy, Abbas vowed to take “legal, financial and national” measures against Hamas, which he has repeatedly held responsible for the apparent assassination attempt. Abbas also threatened that “shoes would be pouring on the heads of the most junior and senior officials in Hamas.”

Last year, Abbas imposed a series of sanctions on the Gaza Strip that included suspending payments to thousands of civil servants and welfare assistance to hundreds of families. The measures also included the suspension of payments to Israel for electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip, which led to severe electricity shortages in the Strip.

The attack on Hamdallah’s convoy led to the suspension of Egyptian efforts to end the ongoing dispute between Hamas and Fatah.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (2nd-R), escorted by his bodyguards, is greeted by police forces of the Hamas terror group (L) upon his arrival in Gaza City on March 13, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The attack came as Egyptian security officials were trying to overcome differences between Hamas and Fatah over the implementation of the “reconciliation” agreement that the two parties signed in Cairo in October 2017.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Abbas “underlined the depth of Palestinian-Egyptian brotherly relations and the Palestinian leadership’s keenness to bolster these ties,” according to the PA news agency. Abbas also praised Egypt’s and Sissi’s efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation, as well as their support for Palestinian rights, it added.

On Monday, Hamdallah repeated his demand that Hamas hand full control of the Gaza Strip over to the PA government. He said that the only way to move forward with the reconciliation agreement was for Hamas to allow the PA government to assume its full responsibilities over the Gaza Strip in all fields, including security.

Hamas has refused to disarm or allow the PA to deploy its forces in the Gaza Strip.

“We will not go to the Gaza Strip unless the government assumes its full responsibilities there,” Hamdallah said. “And we are prepared to assume our responsibilities.”

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