Hamas seeking consensus in Gaza for ceasefire – report

Terror group’s leadership said to advance phased deal that would see it halt border violence and arson attacks in exchange for eased restrictions

Palestinian security forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority stand at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on July 9, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
Palestinian security forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority stand at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on July 9, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

A source in Hamas has reportedly confirmed that the group’s leadership has been promoting a “gradual” agreement with Israel that would begin with a halt to arson attacks and other violence along the Gaza border in exchange for eased border restrictions.

The Hamas source, quoted Monday by the London-based, Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, said the first stage of implementing the long-term ceasefire deal brokered by Egypt would see Israel fully reopen the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and increase the fishing zone off the Gaza coast. In return, Hamas official said the Strip’s rulers would commit to halting all attacks against Israel.

The second phase of the deal would include Hamas-Israel talks for a prisoner exchange agreement, and the implementation of long-proposed humanitarian projects in Gaza, the report said.

Senior Hamas officials based in Arab and Islamic countries who entered Gaza last week have been seeking the approval of other Palestinian factions for the ceasefire agreement with Israel, Palestinian sources told the paper.

“The delegation that came from abroad believes in the necessity of cementing the ceasefire, considering that any new war will be destructive and taking into account that a stronger ceasefire will set the stage for a second possible agreement, including a long-term truce, under which there will be a prisoner exchange and major economic projects in Gaza,” the sources were quoted as saying.

In an effort to reach a consensus on the agreement, Hamas officials updated representatives of other factions in the Strip as to the details of the deal, said the report, which appeared to confirm parts of a report Friday night from Israel’s Hadashot TV news.

The report came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the security cabinet to discuss the proposal. The several-hour meeting reportedly ended without any clear conclusions and the ministers did not vote on the framework.

In this photo released by the Hamas Media Office, Ismail Haniyeh, right, the head of the Hamas political bureau, shakes hands with his deputy Saleh el-Arouri upon his arrival in Gaza from Cairo, Egypt, in Gaza City, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (Mohammad Austaz/Hamas Media Office via AP)

The deputy head of Hamas’s politburo, Saleh al-Arouri, arrived in the Gaza Strip late Thursday with other Hamas leaders for talks with the terror group’s Gazan leadership that focused on the truce as well as renewed reconciliation efforts with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas-linked media reported.

According to Friday’s Hadashot report, the second phase of the deal would see an agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority under which the PA would take control of the Gaza Strip under the auspices of Egypt. It was not clear how that 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 Hadashot report said. The second phase also reportedly outlines a road map 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, would be a five- to 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.

Israeli officials have previously said that Israel would not agree to a permanent deal with Hamas that did not include immediate talks for returning the Israeli citizens and remains of IDF soldiers held in Gaza. But on Sunday, Netanyahu said that a potential truce in Gaza was unlikely to include such a provision.

Hamas has demanded that Israel free terrorists held in its prisons in exchange for the return of the captive Israelis and the soldiers’ remains — a demand Jerusalem says it will not agree to.

Leah Goldin (r), mother of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin and Zehava Shaul, mother of late Israeli soldier Oron Shaul at a press conference ahead of the cabinet meeting outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, August 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Families of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two IDF soldiers killed in action in 2014 whose remains are believed to be in Hamas’s hands, have accused the Netanyahu government of failing to include the return of their sons’ bodies as a condition of the deal.

The families of Goldin, Shaul and civilians Avera Mengistu and Jumaa Ibrahim Abu Ghanima — who are believed to be held by Hamas after entering Gaza of their own volition — staged a protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office while Sunday’s cabinet meeting was taking place.

While Hamas leaders have been meeting in Gaza over the weekend, no details of their talks emerged until Monday’s report. Meanwhile, as both sides were mulling the agreement, Gazans continued to launch flaming kites and balloons across the border into Israel.

According to Fire and Rescue Services, close to 50 fires were sparked in southern Israel over the weekend by airborne incendiary devices launched over the border.

On Sunday, the IDF said it fired on Gazan operatives launching the balloons into Israel, as well as at a vehicle used by a second cell. The Hamas-run Health Ministry said four people were injured in an Israeli strike.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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