Egypt invites Hamas for talks on ‘security,’ sparking rumors

Egypt invites Hamas for talks on ‘security,’ sparking rumors

Some Palestinians believe visit linked to Cairo’s war on Sinai jihadists, others say it’s meant to salvage Hamas-PA reconciliation efforts or address Gaza crisis

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

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivering a speech in Gaza City, on January 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivering a speech in Gaza City, on January 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

A surprise visit by senior Hamas officials to Cairo has sparked a wave of speculation on the reasons behind Egypt’s invitation.

Some Palestinians claimed the visit was linked to the deteriorating security situation in Sinai, while others argued that it was aimed at salvaging the Egyptian-brokered “reconciliation” agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah faction.

The Hamas delegation, headed by Ismail Haniyeh, left the Gaza Strip on Friday to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing. Three senior Hamas officials are accompanying Haniyeh on his visit to Egypt: Khalil Al Hayya, Fathi Hammad and Rouhi Mushtaha.

Last week, the Egyptian authorities reopened the Rafah terminal for three days (between Wednesday and Friday) for the first time since the beginning of the year.

Hamas said the visit, which coincided with a major military operation waged by the Egyptian army against terrorists in Sinai, came at the invitation of the Egyptian government.

This file photo taken on November 1, 2017, shows portraits of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and PA President Mahmoud Abbas hanging at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

The visit also came on the heels of reports claiming that the Egyptian authorities had helped Hamas thwart a plot by the Islamic State to assassinate Haniyeh.

Hamas has neither confirmed not denied the reports, which first appeared in Egyptian media outlets.

It was Haniyeh’s first trip outside the Gaza Strip since the recent US decision to add him to the American list of global terrorists.

Sources in the Gaza Strip said on Saturday that the talks between Hamas and Egyptian officials would focus on security-related issues.

According to the sources, Egyptian security experts who visited the Gaza Strip recently discussed with Hamas officials ways of strengthening cooperation between the two sides along their shared border.

“The Egyptians want Hamas to step up security measures along the border to thwart terror attacks in Sinai,” the sources added.

Hamas is hoping the security cooperation would prompt the Egyptians to help solve the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, the sources said.

A picture taken on November 28, 2017, from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing following an explosion close to the border on the Egyptian side of the divided city. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Palestinian political analyst Hamzeh Abu Shanab said the visit by the Hamas delegation to Cairo was mainly aimed at strengthening security coordination between the two sides, especially along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Abu Shanab claimed that the visit was also connected to Egypt’s effort to prevent Qatar from regaining influence in the Palestinian arena.

Last year, Egypt and three other Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — decided to cut off their diplomatic relations with Qatar, citing the emirate’s continued support for terrorism.

Hours before he headed to Cairo, Haniyeh received a phone call from the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who pledged urgent aid worth $9 million to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the visit was in the context of joint efforts to “alleviate the suffering of our people in the Gaza Strip.”

But according to Barhoum, the Hamas officials’ discussions in Cairo will also deal with ways of removing obstacles hindering the implementation of the “reconciliation” accord with Fatah, which was signed in Cairo in November 2017.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said that the discussions would focus on the “conditions of our people in the Gaza Strip and their suffering as a result of the siege and sanctions.”

The talks will also focus on the “floundering reconciliation” agreement and ways of “putting the Palestinian house in order,” he added.

Palestinian businessmen and truck drivers take part in a protest against the blockade on the Gaza Strip, on February 6, 2018 in Gaza City. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

According to Abu Marzouk, the Egypt-Hamas discussions will also focus on the US administration’s “deal of the century” – a reference to a US plan for peace in the Middle East, the details of which remain unknown.

It was unclear whether the Hamas officials would meet with Fatah representatives during their stay in Cairo.

But Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesperson, said that his movement was not opposed to any meetings with Fatah officials.

Radwan refused to comment on reports that suggested that the Hamas delegation was also planning to meet with ousted Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan.

Dahlan, who was expelled from Fatah after falling out with Abbas, has since been living in exile in the UAE.

Last year, Hamas and Dahlan were reported to have struck a deal that would have seen the former Fatah leader return to the Gaza Strip, paving the way for the UAE and other countries to provide financial aid to the Palestinians living there.

The deal was apparently foiled by Abbas’s sudden decision to sign the “reconciliation” accord with Hamas.

Abbas and his top aides believe that Dahlan wants to replace the PA president and have accused him of working together with some Arab countries to undermine the PA leadership in Ramallah.

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