The Hamas leadership on Friday agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal with Israel on the condition that restrictions on the Gaza Strip’s border crossings be eased, Hadashot news reported. Now the leaders were waiting for an Israeli response after the cabinet meets Sunday, the TV report said.
In the wake of Hamas’s approval, the TV news station said that a “very senior” Israeli official traveled to Qatar for talks on how to implement the long-term ceasefire deal.
According to Hadashot, the first phase of the plan would see the Rafah border crossing with Egypt reopened on a permanent basis, and eased restrictions on the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel.
The second phase of deal, according to Hadashot, would see an agreement between Hamas and Fatah that would see the Palestinian Authority take control of the Gaza Strip under the auspices of Egypt. It was not clear how this could be reconciled with Hamas’s refusal to relinquish its weaponry — a stance that has scuppered previous Fatah-Hamas reconciliation efforts.
In return, the PA would resume paying its employees in Gaza whose salaries it has withheld, the TV report said. The second phase also outlines a roadmap for elections to be held in Gaza within six months.
A third phase would implement long-proposed humanitarian projects like the establishment of a port in the Sinai in Egypt that would serve Gaza, the report said.
The last phase, Hadashot reported, was a 5-10 year ceasefire agreement with Israel, that would include negotiations for the return of the Israeli citizens and remains of IDF soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza.
These specifics were not officially confirmed.
However, an Israeli official told Channel 10 on Friday that Israel would not be willing to accept any long-term deal with Hamas that did not include the return of the held Israelis. He said the deal stipulated that the negotiations for their return must begin immediately.
As soon as news 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,” the letter said. “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 the security cabinet is to meet to discuss the agreement.
Reports in the Lebanese news paper Al-Akhbar earlier on Friday said the deal stipulated that Hamas must commit to “the end of the provocations along the border, or in other words, the phenomena of the flaming kites and ballons, border crossing operations and setting fire to border posts.”
The deputy head of Hamas’s politburo, Saleh al-Arouri, who served several Israeli jail terms for terrorism, arrived in the Gaza Strip late Thursday with other Hamas leaders 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 Netanyahu, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.
The reports of a possible ceasefire came as the IDF said Palestinians protesting along the border breached the border fence and hurled firebombs. One Palestinian was killed and 25 Palestinians were injured during the Hamas-led “March of Return” demonstrations Friday afternoon, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said.
The army said some 8,000 people took part in five separate protests along the border, and that troops responded with riot disposal means and live fire in accordance with appropriate rules of engagement.
For over three months, there have been near-weekly, violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, leading to the most serious escalation between the two sides since the 2014 war.
The deadly clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. Last month, one Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper.
According to the Gaza health ministry, 157 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the “March of Return” protests on March 30. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.
The protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.
On Friday, firefighters had worked to extinguish 16 blazes caused by incendiary balloons across Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services said.
The confrontations have at times spiraled into military exchanges, with Palestinians firing dozens of rockets at southern Israeli towns and the army launching air strikes on Hamas positions in Gaza.