Hamas appears to be scaling back mass protests along the Gaza-Israel frontier as Egypt renews its efforts to broker a cease-fire.
Only a few hundred people joined a beach demonstration near the perimeter fence in northern Gaza on Monday — a much smaller turnout than previous weeks. The Hamas-run Health Ministry said 20 protesters were wounded by Israeli fire.
The march took place as Egyptian mediators were in Gaza for cease-fire talks.
For the first time in months, there were no deaths during last Friday’s weekly protest. More than 100 Palestinians were reported wounded in violent clashes on as thousands protested close to the fence, burning tires and throwing rocks at Israeli military positions along the Gaza border. However, Israeli defense officials said it was the quietest protest since the “March of Return” events began earlier this year.
The protests intensified in recent weeks, moving from weekly to daily affairs, as Hamas sought to pressure Israel into a deal. The past few days have seen a reduction in violence along the border as mediators have made efforts to return the calm.
Hadashot TV news reported Friday that Israeli officials believe Hamas has changed its policies regarding the clashes and is working toward curbing violence at the rallies.
Jerusalem believes the terror group is moderating the demonstrations in order to allow Egyptian mediators a chance to strike a deal between Hamas and Israel for a long-term truce, the report said.
Amid the relative calm, the cabinet has reportedly been briefed on an emerging UN- and Egyptian-mediated agreement for a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, that would see Qatar pay for the Gaza Strip’s fuel, as well as fund the salaries of civil servants in the enclave.
The deal will see the cessation of violent protests on the Strip’s border with Israel. In turn, Israel will allow Qatari-funded fuel to return to Gaza and boost power supply, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported Monday.
While Israel believes such an accord would likely lead the Palestinian Authority to further cut funds to Gaza, it may retaliate by deducting any cuts from tax revenues it transfers annually to the PA.
Kan noted that ministers are aware the deal would boost Qatar’s regional influence while providing Hamas with a significant diplomatic achievement as it circumvents the PA while coordinating with the UN.
Egypt, alongside United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov, has recently played a key role in attempts to mediate a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel.
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.
Fatah and the PA have vehemently opposed any possible ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. They have demanded reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas take place before any ceasefire be reached, and asserted the PLO is the sole Palestinian party that can negotiate such a deal.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has maintained a chokehold on Gaza’s finances in a bid to pressure Hamas to cede control of the territory.
PA leaders have been enraged by the move to bypass them in aiding Gaza, and have reportedly been mulling slashing all aid to the Strip — a cut of some $96 million that Israeli security officials believe could drive a desperate and cash-strapped Hamas toward conflict with Israel.
Abbas has contended that the PA should not be held financially responsible for the Gaza Strip where Hamas is in charge. He has, in the past, shown interest in reconciling with the terror group and returning PA rule to the coastal enclave. However, Abbas has refused to do so unless Hamas disarms — a condition that the Islamist group has shown no interest in accepting.
But a number of Arab governments have objected to Abbas’s desire to choke off Hamas in Gaza, concluding that such a measure would lead to a spike in violence.
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.
There have also been several flareups that took Israel and Hamas to the brink of war, with Palestinians firing rockets into Israel and the IDF responding with airstrikes.
Some 156 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures; Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.
Adam Rasgon and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.