Hamas officials are considering an Egyptian-backed offer for a five-year truce with Israel that would see an end to violence and incendiary balloon attacks at the Gaza border and a partial lifting of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the beleaguered enclave, a Lebanese newspaper reported on Friday.
The truce would go into effect in stages, the Al-Akhbar daily reported, citing sources close to Hamas.
The first stage would begin within a week and include “the end of the provocations along the border, or in other words, the phenomena of the flaming kites, border crossing operations and setting fire to border posts,” the report said.
In return, the Kerem Shalom and Rafah border crossings from Israel and Egypt, respectively, would be reopened on a permanent basis.
The second phase would focus on “the improvement of living conditions and the complete lifting of the siege on Gaza’s residents,” the entry of all goods and a boost to electricity supplied through Israeli power lines into the Strip.
In the third phase, the UN would implement long-proposed humanitarian projects like the establishment of a port in Ismailia, Egypt, that would serve Gaza, and operating an airport in Egypt and an electric power station in the Sinai Peninsula, all for the use of Gazans.
The deputy head of Hamas’s politburo, Saleh al-Arouri, arrived in the Gaza Strip late Thursday for talks focused on renewed reconciliation efforts with Fatah and to raise the truce prospects with the terror group’s Gazan leadership, Hamas-linked media reported.
According to Al-Akhbar, Hamas’s leadership, including its Shura Council, or parliament, is expected to convene a vote on the proposal, which was brokered by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov in meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.
As soon of the reported proposal broke Friday, the families of Israeli fallen soldiers and civilians held in Gaza appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli political leaders urging them to include the release of Israelis in any deal.
“Any deal that doesn’t include the return of Oron [Shaul], Hadar [Goldin], [Avera] Mengistu and the rest of our citizens won’t be worth the paper it’s written on, or whatever verbal promises were made for it,” read a letter to Netanyahu from the Shaul family.
“For the deal to have practical and moral validity, its first stipulation must be the release of our sons…. A deal without the return of our sons is a surrender that only serves as evidence of our country’s weakness.”
The Shaul family plans to protest the deal in front of the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday morning, when ministers are slated to gather for the weekly cabinet meeting.
According to the al-Akhbar report, Hamas officials complained in recent days that “this offer does not reflect the sacrifices of the Strip’s residents,” al-Akhbar reported. They are reportedly insisting on an immediate solution for Palestinian Authority employees in Gaza whose salaries the PA — led by Hamas rival Fatah — has withheld, in addition to a sea passage to Cyprus without Israeli oversight, a demand Israel has repeatedly rejected.
Mladenov spoke about the proposed truce with Hamas’s top political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, last week, and has been part of the talks in Cairo, where the final proposal was developed.
Hamas sources said the group’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, had mobilized in Gaza “ahead of any possible Israeli deception” — an apparent suggestion that Hamas officials suspected the truce talks were an Israeli ruse to catch the group off guard.
But officials said the military wing was nevertheless willing to give the group’s political leadership a chance to find a solution to the Strip’s humanitarian crisis without going to war.
Hamas must consider a truce with Israel and Egypt even as it remains on hostile terms with both. On Thursday, as Arouri’s motorcade passed into Gaza via Rafah, it was searched by Egyptian troops, Palestinian sources said.
Arouri was accompanied by senior Hamas officials Musa Abu Marzouk, Husam Badran and Ezzat al-Rishq.
Arouri, who helped found Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank, has been based in various Arab and Islamic countries since Israel deported him from the territory in 2010. He has been holding talks with Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo in a bid to broker the proposed truce.
Israeli intelligence officials believe that Arouri helped plan the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens — Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel — as well as numerous other terror attacks. He has served several terms in Israeli prisons, and was released in March 2010 as part of efforts to reach a larger prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit, an IDF corporal kidnapped by Hamas in 2006. Arouri went on to be involved in sewing up the deal that provided for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in return for the freeing of Shalit in 2011.
Arouri is also one of Hamas’s key interlocutors with Iran and Hezbollah. He visited Tehran at least three times in the past year and met Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in October 2017.
Egypt and Mladenov received assurances that Israel will not harm Arouri while he visits the Strip, the Ynet news site reported Thursday, citing Palestinian sources.
Senior Hamas officials based in Arab countries have not visited Gaza since Egyptian president Muhammed Morsi was deposed in July 2013 by the Egyptian military, after which Egypt clamped down on its border with Gaza due to Hamas’s backing of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Israel maintains that its blockade of Gaza is crucial for preventing the entry of weapons into the territory.
The Israeli security cabinet is set to meet Sunday to discuss the possible emerging deal.
For over three months there have been near-weekly violent border protests organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Deadly clashes along the Israeli-Gazan border have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. One Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper.
More than 100 Palestinians have been killed, more than half members of armed groups, and thousands have been wounded.