Egypt invites Hamas leaders for talks on Gaza protests, reconciliation
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Egypt invites Hamas leaders for talks on Gaza protests, reconciliation

Cairo pressuring terror group to stop weekly disturbances along Israeli border as part of wider efforts to help implement unity deal with Fatah

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

Hamas's new deputy leader Salah al-Arouri (seated, left) and Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad (seated, right) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements work to end their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)
Hamas's new deputy leader Salah al-Arouri (seated, left) and Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad (seated, right) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements work to end their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

A senior Hamas delegation was scheduled to arrive in Cairo on Tuesday amid reports that Egypt has been exerting pressure on the Palestinian terror group to halt the weekly “March of Return” mass demonstrations along the Israeli border.

Hamas leaders Saleh al-Arouri and Moussa Abu Marzouk will head the delegation, which is expected to hold talks with Egyptian officials regarding the protests as well as the ongoing dispute between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.

According to an unconfirmed report, the Hamas officials are also scheduled to meet with Fatah leaders in Cairo. If true, it would be the first meeting between the two rival factions since an assassination attempt on PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during his visit to Gaza last month.

The report said that a Fatah delegation headed by Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy chairman of the faction, has also been invited to Cairo.

The Egyptians fear the weekly demonstrations along the border between Gaza and Israel could spin out of control and lead to another military confrontation between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah said on Sunday.

On the eve of the visit to Cairo, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said that his group was prepared to “study any advice given to it, and would accept any advice that serves Palestinian interests.”

However, Zahar said it was “in the interest of the Palestinians to continue the March of Return until we achieve its goals. We make our decisions based on the interests of the Palestinians.”

The March of Return has “exposed to the world Israeli crimes,” he said.

Palestinian protesters burn an Israeli flag during clashes with Israeli forces near the border with Israel, east of Gaza city in the central Gaza strip, on April 13, 2018. (/ AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS )

Referring to the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement signed between rival parties Hamas and Fatah in Cairo last October but yet to be implemented, Zahar said: “Fatah does not want any agreement and is trying to hold Hamas responsible for the failure of the reconciliation agreement. Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas can’t implement the agreement, and this is a waste of time and effort. I believe we will not get anything [from Abbas].”

Zahar and other Hamas leaders denied a report claiming the group had received an offer that would see a European committee manage the humanitarian and social affairs in Gaza if Abbas levies additional sanctions on the Hamas-run enclave.

“These are test balloons,” Zahar said. “When we receive something, we study its positive and negative aspects in a way that serves Palestinian interests.

The Hezbollah-affiliated Al Akhbar newspaper reported on Monday that the European proposal was presented to Hamas through an unnamed international party. It said that the proposal calls for European countries to manage the humanitarian and day-to-day affairs of the Gaza Strip, including paying salaries to civil servants there.

In return, the reported proposal, dubbed “Food for Security,” would call for Hamas to pledge not to use its weapons against Israel for at least five years and secure the border with Israel

A spokesperson for the European Union also denied the report, saying the bloc would only recognize the Palestinian Authority as the leader of Gaza.

On Saturday, an Egyptian delegation headed by Sameh Nabil, director of the Palestinian Portfolio in Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, held meetings with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yehya Sinwar in Gaza.

According to the Palestinian Quds news site, the Hamas leaders refused to discuss the weekly border protests with the Egyptian delegation.

The report quoted Palestinian sources as saying that the five-hour meeting was tense and included verbal altercations between the two sides.

The sources claimed that the Egyptians were outraged because Hamas had ignored Egypt’s request to send representatives of the terror group to Cairo last week.

A Hamas official in the Gaza Strip said that his group made it clear to the Egyptians that the March of Return was an issue concerning all Palestinians, and not a specific faction.

Israeli soldiers have killed more than 30 Palestinians and wounded thousands since March 30, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry figures, in the mass protests. Hamas has acknowledged that several of those killed were its members.

Israel says it opens fire when necessary to stop damage to the border fence, infiltrations, and attempted attacks. It alleges that Hamas, a terror group whose leaders have said the demonstrations are ultimately aimed at erasing the border and liberating Palestine, is seeking to use the protests as cover to carry out violence.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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