Fatah said to back Egypt’s bid for Israel-Gaza calm, but not a full ceasefire

Officials tell Cairo negotiators that any long-term agreement can only come after internal Palestinian reconciliation with Hamas

Palestinians react to tear gas fired by Israeli forces during clashes east of Gaza City near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on November 2, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinians react to tear gas fired by Israeli forces during clashes east of Gaza City near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on November 2, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In an apparent break from its previous stance, the Fatah party which dominates the Palestinian Authority has reportedly given Egyptian negotiators the go-ahead to mediate an agreement to quell violence between Israel and Hamas-led factions in the Gaza Strip. But Palestinian officials continue to insist that any formal ceasefire with Israel can only be inked after rival Palestinian factions achieve a reconciliation deal.

Senior Palestinian sources told the Al-Hayat newspaper Sunday that Fatah officials gave their approval to the Egyptians in Cairo during a meeting with Hamas leaders. The meeting was attended by Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad and Hussein al-Sheikh, another committee member and close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The sources noted that the current Egyptian efforts, reportedly nearing a conclusion, are aimed only at achieving “calm” between Gaza and Israel and are not considered a formal agreement or ceasefire, which they said can only be formulated after Palestinian reconciliation.

According to the report, the Fatah delegation gave its approval in order to “restore normalcy” to Hamas-ruled Gaza and prevent another war between the terror rulers of the coastal enclave and Israel.

Arabic media reports have said that if achieved, a ceasefire would include at least a partial lifting of Israel’s restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza.

Israel holds that its restrictions on movement serve security purposes, including preventing the entry of weapons into the Strip.

Azzam al-Ahmad, head of Fatah’s Central Committee and delegation speaks during a press conference at the end of two days of closed-door talks attended by representatives of 13 leading political parties held in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED)

Fatah agreed to a two-stage plan, under which over the coming two weeks Gazans would agree to end violent protests. In return, Israel will allow the entry of Qatari-funded fuel oil to power Gaza’s power station, as well as easing other restrictions, Al-Hayat reported. Over the next six months, more restrictions would be lifted if the quiet is maintained with the goal of returning to a 2014 ceasefire that brought an end to the last major confrontation between Israel and Hamas-led groups in Gaza.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has controlled Gaza since it ousted the Fatah-dominated PA in 2007 from the coastal enclave. The two Palestinian factions have remained deeply divided ever since. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.

Ramallah-based PA officials have previously insisted a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation should precede any possible ceasefire. They have also contended that the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas chairs, is the sole party with the legitimacy to negotiate a ceasefire with Israel.

Over the past several years both Fatah and Hamas have signed a number of agreements, including an Egyptian-brokered deal in October 2017, to bring Gaza under one government and advance reconciliation efforts, but the rival parties have failed to implement them.

In August, an unnamed senior Fatah official told Israel’s Channel 10 that Abbas had declared that “over my dead body, there will be a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.”

The same month al-Sheikh told Palestinian Authority television: “It is not possible to talk about a ceasefire before we achieve reconciliation.”

According to a report by Lebanon’s Al-Akbar newspaper on Saturday, the emerging ceasefire agreement aimed at calming months of violence on the Israel-Gaza border will last for three years and see a significant easing of the blockade on the Hamas-controlled territory. According to the report, the deal being brokered by Egypt stipulates a gradual stop to the ongoing, Hamas-orchestrated violent border protests and maritime flotillas over the next two months. In addition, Hamas will be obligated to punish Gazans caught engaging in violent demonstrating along the border with Israel.

In return, Egypt will permanently open its Rafah border crossing and lift 70 percent of its blockade on the Hamas-controlled territory, the report said, citing officials familiar with the emerging agreement. Al-Akbar said the deal would require Israel to grant 5,000 work permits for Gazans, and expand the Strip’s fishing zone from nine to 14 nautical miles.

Israel had no immediate comment on the report.

In addition, the paper reported the Palestinian Authority would pay 80 percent of the salaries of Hamas officials in Gaza, and would not object to Qatar bankrolling those wages for at least six months, like it has in the past.

The truce is slated to last three years and will be under the supervision of the United Nations and Russia. At later stage after the deal is implemented, Al-Akbar said Egypt would work to advance a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

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