A Hamas delegation is in Cairo for what one senior Palestinian diplomat said Sunday was a renewed effort by the terrorist organization to mend relations with the largest country in the Arab world, once an ally. But, the diplomat said, Egypt has a list of concessions it expects Hamas to make.
The ties between the two sides nosedived when Muslim Brotherhood official Mohammed Morsi was ousted as president in 2013, and replaced by former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Egypt has since accused Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and is allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, of supporting the Islamic State’s branch in its Sinai Peninsula. Cairo also claimed that Hamas, along with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, was behind the assassination of its chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat in June 2015.
The Palestinian diplomat on Sunday told Ahram Online, the website of Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper, that Hamas has been feeling the pressure from the Egyptian government, and is eager to mend the frayed relationship.
“These pressures include accusations of involvement in the assassination of Egypt’s top prosecutor, as well as an Egyptian media campaign that has harmed the movement’s image in front of the Egyptian public, which is considered one of the most important incubators of the Palestinian issue,” the diplomat told Ahram.
The diplomat also told the website that Hamas is feeling “the loss of Egyptian leadership, which differs in importance from any other forms of leadership in terms of its general role in the Palestinian issue.”
As a result, the diplomat said, Hamas is willing to make concessions to Egypt, including stricter controls along the Gaza-Sinai border. This concession could result in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — head of the Fatah movement ousted from Gaza by Hamas almost a decade ago — deploying his own guards along the frontier.
Egypt’s demands also include Hamas questioning individuals wanted for their alleged role in the prosecutor’s murder, or even handing them over to Cairo. It also wants Hamas to cut its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now outlawed in Egypt. Hamas appears to be amenable to this demand, reportedly taking down Muslim Brotherhood posters in Gaza following the first round of reconciliation talks with Egypt earlier this month.
But the Palestinian diplomat said that despite this gesture, Hamas “still has a long test ahead of it where it has to overcome many obstacles.”
In return, Hamas wants Egypt to open the largely shuttered Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai, Ahram Online said. It also seeks an end to the flooding of tunnels running under the border, and the return of four Hamas officials who were seized in the Sinai last August. Gaza’s land borders have been sealed by neighbors Egypt and Israel, due to terrorist activity by Hamas.
Since September last year, the Egyptian military has periodically pumped sea water into the underground cross-border tunnels dug between Sinai and Gaza in a campaign to stamp out terror activity along the border.
“We have to wait and see Egypt’s response to the requests by Hamas,” the diplomat told Ahram on Sunday.