Egypt offered Hamas more freedom at its border and much-needed electricity amid a severe power shortage, in exchange for the terror group agreeing to a list of security demands, Arab media reported Tuesday.
The list of includes a demand that Hamas hand over 17 men wanted by Cairo on terrorism charges, more protection by Hamas at the border, the cessation of weapons smuggling into the Sinai, and information on the movement of militants into Gaza via underground tunnels, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.
The list was given to Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar by Egyptian security officials during his nine-day trip to Cairo that ended on Monday.
The Israeli cabinet decided Sunday night it would cut the amount of power it supplies to Gaza at the behest of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is seeking to ramp up pressure on Hamas, his Fatah party’s bitter rival.
In April the PA told Israel that it would only pay NIS 25 million ($11.1 million) of the NIS 40 million ($5.6- 7 million) monthly bill. Israel currently supplies 125 megawatts to Gaza, around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.
Currently Gaza is seeing four to six hours of power a day.
The power cuts are significantly impairing Gaza’s medical services, and the World Bank has warned the Strip is facing a humanitarian disaster.
However, it is not clear how much Egypt can do to stem Gaza’s power crisis. Egyptian power lines, when they work, provided 25 megawatts — just 6.25% of the amount necessary to power Gaza for a full day.
However, according to the Israel Defense Forces, the Egyptian power lines have not been providing any power lately due to malfunctions, and Israeli power lines have become Gaza’s sole power source. Gaza has one power plant, but it stopped working in April after Hamas ran out of fuel and refused to purchase more from the PA over what it said were unfairly high taxes.
On Monday the Egyptian power company, according to Palestinian media reports, informed the Gaza power company it was disconnecting its cables. It’s not clear whether it was for repairs.
Hamas and Egypt have had cool relations since Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, was overthrown by the military in 2013. Morsi came from Hamas’s parent group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hamas delegations have been in and out of Cairo for the past few years but have seen little success in improving relations. The Rafah crossing for Gazans who seek to leave the embattled Strip is still opened only periodically.
Egypt reportedly accuses Hamas of aiding Islamic State fighters it is battling in its northern Sinai region.
Hamas has been trying to convince Egypt that it is a reliable security partner. It has deployed more troops along the border with the Sinai.
Hamas also made a gesture toward Egypt last month with a new policy document that dropped its longtime association with the Muslim Brotherhood and identified itself as a Palestinian movement fighting only against Israel.
But thus far, handing over men to Cairo has been a red line Hamas has refused to cross.
According to the Asharq al-Awsat report, Egypt now believes it has more leverage over Hamas because both its Gaza chief Sinwar, and its international chief, Ismail Haniyeh, are currently residing in the Strip, and can leave only with Egypt’s permission.
Hamas’s previous political bureau chief, Khaled Mashaal, resided abroad.
Hamas also finds itself on shaky ground with its most important backer, Qatar, after four strong Sunni states — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt — suddenly broke ties with the wealthy Gulf country earlier in June over its support of extremism in the region.
Saudi Arabia specifically mentioned Hamas as an extremist group supported by Qatar.
Five leaders in Hamas’s military wing were asked to leave Qatar by their long time hosts, though members of the Gaza-based terror group’s political bureau have been allowed to stay.
Despite the row, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani insisted Saturday that Hamas is “a legitimate resistance movement.”
Both Israel and the PA charge that Hamas would have the money to supply Gaza’s power needs if it didn’t expend a large part of its resources on armament and preparation for future conflict with the Jewish state.
Hamas warned Monday that should Israel carry out its decision to reduce power to Gaza, it could lead to an “explosion” of the situation.
AFP contributed to this report.