A Hamas and Islamic Jihad delegation left the Gaza Strip for Cairo on Saturday for talks with Egyptian officials to advance efforts to reach a Palestinian reconciliation deal and a possible long-term truce with Israel, Palestinian media reported.
According to the reports, the delegation was headed by Hamas deputy leader Salah al-Arouri. The Gaza officials were scheduled to meet with Egyptian intelligence officials throughout the day for deliberations.
Meanwhile, a top Hamas official on Saturday warned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas against imposing additional “sanctions” on the coastal territory.
Kahlil al-Hayya, a senior member of the Hamas political bureau, told Gaza newspaper Felesteen that the ruling terrorist group would respond with a “free hand” against any additional measures imposed by the rival Ramallah government headed by Abbas.
Hayya did not elaborate what the response from Hamas might entail, but stressed that Abbas needed to take full responsibility for Gaza.
The remarks came in response to Abbas’s speech to the UN General Assembly earlier this week in which he threatened to “give up responsibility” for Gaza if Hamas refused to respond positively to Egyptian efforts to broker a reconciliation deal between the rival Palestinian factions.
Abbas has slashed funding to Gaza and cut salaries of PA employees there to pressure Hamas into handing over the territory, making it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern. Hamas fears Abbas may reduce funding for health care and other services for Gazans.
Further cuts to Gaza’s budget are seen as a move that could worsen the Strip’s already dire humanitarian situation and deepen a rift between the rival groups.
During his speech on Thursday, Abbas indicated he would cut the remaining PA budgets allocated for Gaza if Hamas refused to hand over control of the coastal territory.
“There is an agreement between Hamas and us. We abided by it and our Egyptian brothers know that, but they have not abided by it. Therefore, from now on, we will not bear any responsibility [for Gaza]. I ask you to understand that. We will not bear any responsibility if they insist on rejecting agreements,” he said, referring to an Egyptian-brokered agreement Hamas and Fatah signed last year.
Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement to bring the West Bank and Gaza under the PA’s authority in October 2017, however the rival parties failed to implement deal.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has cut more than $500 million in aid to the Palestinians, including ending all support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, sparking a budget crisis.
Last week, the World Bank warned the Gaza Strip’s economy was in “free fall.” The report said Gaza’s economy shrunk by six percent in the first quarter of 2018 “with indications of further deterioration since then,” it said.
The bank said one in two Gazans now lives below the poverty line and that unemployment is running at 53 percent. More than 70% of young people are jobless, it said.
UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov said this week the failure to implement the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement was a key factor behind the Strip’s worsening humanitarian situation.
The Palestinian delegation traveled to Cairo a day after the Gaza health ministry said seven Gazans, including 2 teens, were killed in clashes with Israeli troops along the border.
The IDF said about 20,000 Palestinians took part in violent protests, spread out among a few locations along the Gaza security fence. In several instances they threw hand grenades and explosive devices at soldiers. In two cases IAF aircraft carried out strikes against grenade throwers, the army said, noting there were no injuries to IDF forces.
Egypt has also been trying to broker a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would see an end to the ongoing border protests in exchange for loosening the blockade on the coastal territory.
However, those talks have stalled as well and the riots along the border have gone from a weekly event to nightly protests.