Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of an Egypt-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas to end a recent uptick in violence is creating tensions between Ramallah and Cairo, it was reported Sunday.
Abbas insists that Egyptian efforts prioritize reconciliation between his Fatah party and its rival Hamas, and that the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he chairs, play a central role in agreeing to a ceasefire, the London-based Al-Hayat daily newspaper reported.
Cairo hopes to close a deal between Israel and Hamas by the beginning of next week.
Relations between the PA and Egypt are “very tense,” the report said citing Palestinian sources.
Last week Abbas reportedly refused to meet with visiting Egypt intelligence chief Abbas Kamel. Kamel has been involved in the reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party, as well as the ceasefire talks between Hamas and Israel.
Hamas and the PA have been at odds since the terror group violently took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. A number of reconciliation agreements between them have failed to patch up their differences, most recently an Egypt-sponsored deal signed in October.
Cairo has hosted talks attended by all of the major Palestinian factions, with the exception of Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority.
The PA, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, is responsible for governing the Palestinian Territories whereas the PLO is the official body representing the Palestinian people and their national interests.
Most of the factions agree to the terms of the truce, with the exception of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which, like Abbas, is pushing for “national reconciliation” to be the priority, the report said.
Abbas is demanding that Hamas hand over complete control of Gaza to the PA, and that the switch be conducted in a single stroke rather than in stages.
Palestinian sources told Al-Hayat that Abbas wants PA control “from end to end, and below and above ground” a reference to the military tunnel networks and arms controlled by Hamas in Gaza.
Abbas is also insisting that the PLO oversee the ceasefire terms and signing, as it did following the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. To that end, Abbas wants Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of the PLO executive committee, to sign any agreement.
An Egyptian source told al-Hayat: “We are putting the final touches for all parties to sign the clauses of the agreement, and we expect to announce next week if Fatah helps that to happen.”
Fatah has not as yet participated in the Cairo talks, although a senior source in the party told the newspaper that a delegation is expected to travel to the Egyptian capital.
The source said an announcement for a ceasefire is expected after the upcoming Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, sometime early next week.
Hamas refuses to give up control of its tunnel infrastructure and weapons. The terror group is however showing more flexibility regarding handing over responsibility for civilian life in the Gaza Strip, which is home to some two million Palestinians, sources said.
Officials in Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of hardline terror groups, said that the truce must pave the way to ending Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
According to Al-Hayat, Husam Badran, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, said in a statement the Cairo talks are aimed at stabilizing the situation to bring it in line with understandings reached in 2014 which brought an end to the 50-day conflict at the time. According to Badran, that includes easing the naval blockade.
Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the Palestinian Authority. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.
On Saturday Abbas warned that there can be no two separate entities ruling Palestinian lands, stating that if the PA is not handed complete control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas will have to take full responsibility for the territory. He made the comments at a gathering of the Palestinian Central Council, the PLO’s second highest decision-making body.
Last week, the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel reported that the long-term deal taking shape will last for a year and see the establishment of a cargo shipping connection between Gaza and Cyprus. Israel will have security control over the sea traffic between the Palestinian coastal enclave and Cyprus, according to the report, which cited sources familiar with the details.
In an apparent sign that a truce is approaching, Israel last week reopened the Kerem Shalom goods crossing into Gaza, which had been shut due to the recent unrest. However on Sunday Israel’s Defense Ministry announced that the Erez Crossing at the north of the enclave was closed in the wake of Friday’s violent border clashes.
Recent months have seen repeated rounds of intense violence between Israel and Hamas, along with weekly border protests at the Gaza border that have regularly included rioting, attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to infiltrate and sabotage the border fence.
At least 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began, a Hamas ministry says. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.
One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.
In addition to the border clashes, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.