Egypt, Hamas agree on lifting of Gaza border restrictions — report

Alleged deal to ease flow of goods into Strip comes amid increased warnings that deteriorating conditions in the enclave could spark a war

Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 16, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 16, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Egypt has reportedly reached an agreement with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip, to lift restrictions on the coastal enclave.

According to a Channel 10 report Friday quoting “trustworthy” Palestinian sources, Egypt is weighing a number of measures to alleviate the poor living conditions in Gaza and has agreed to permit a freer flow of goods through the Rafah Border Crossing.

Implementing the decision, however, is dependent on Israel’s agreement, the report said.

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, has been in Cairo the last two weeks. The terror group said earlier this month his visit would include discussions on the economic crisis “that put Gaza on the edge of the abyss.”

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks to the press at the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on September 19, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israeli military and international officials have increasingly warned of the deteriorating conditions in the Strip and the potential for renewed violence between Hamas and Israel.

On Thursday, Qatar’s point man for Gaza urged the world to send critically needed humanitarian aid to the territory, warning that the war-ravaged coastal strip is “on the verge of collapsing,” and could plunge into a new round of fighting with Israel if conditions do not improve.

Mohammed al-Emadi issued the appeal after a trip to Gaza this week. He also met with Israeli officials, even though his country does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press in his Jerusalem hotel suite, al-Emadi said it is the international community’s responsibility to come to Gaza’s aid. He called on Israel and Gaza’s Hamas terror group leaders to take steps to improve conditions, and he criticized the recent US decision to cut aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, calling it “devastating.”

“The people of the world should be awakened to save Gaza and to prevent a new war,” he said. He said the cost of helping Gaza is “nothing” compared to the cost of another war.

“Then the costs will be tremendous, and nobody can bear those costs,” he said.

Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi (C) leaves a press conference at the Dar al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, on February 19, 2018. Hospital workers tried to approach Al-Emadi as he left, but were pushed back by Hamas policemen. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

Gaza’s problems took a significant downturn after Hamas, an Islamic terror group sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Since then, repeated attempts at Palestinian reconciliation have failed. Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade to weaken Hamas, which has long utilized its border crossings to smuggle weapons that it then uses to fire at Israel, with whom the terror group has fought three wars.

Al-Emadi, who visits Gaza every few months, said he was struck by how bad conditions have become on his latest visit.

He said that while in Gaza this time, he was unable to leave his hotel room, because his car was surrounded by people desperately asking for help in a scene he described as heartbreaking.

He said the Trump administration’s decision to withhold some $65 million from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, was especially painful. More than half of Gaza’s 2 million people rely on UNWRA aid.

A Palestinian holds a banner in Gaza City during a general strike to protest the humanitarian situation in Gaza on February 20, 2018. The writing in Arabic reads: ‘Gaza’s children are dying, can anyone help?’ (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

“This is devastating,” he said. “Any cut of any international organization or UN bodies working there will affect the lives of the people.”

He described his work as pragmatic and humanitarian, saying the world cannot wait for the territory’s numerous political problems to be solved.

He called on Hamas to preserve the quiet, and to prevent Gazans from clashing with Israeli soldiers along the territory’s border fence with Israel. He urged Israel to pressure Egypt to open its border with Gaza to allow people to travel in and out, and said Israel should also increase the number of travel permits it gives to Gazans. Both countries severely restrict movement, saying it is a necessary security measure.

Without improvement and given the lack of options for Hamas, al-Emadi said he fears the sides will head to another war.

“If the international community helps Gaza, this will prevent the war,” he said. “This is our aim, to prevent a war.”

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