Hamas chief says lifting of Gaza blockade ‘around the corner’

At speech to mark Eid al-Adha holiday, Ismail Haniyeh makes no direct mention of reported truce with Israel being brokered by Egypt and UN

Hamas terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip, August 21, 2018. 
Hamas terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip, August 21, 2018. (Anas BABA/AFP)

GAZA CITY, Gaza — Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Tuesday that an end to Israel’s more than decade-long blockade of Gaza was “around the corner,” as talk of a possible truce deal intensifies.

Indirect negotiations between the Hamas terrorist group, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Israel brokered by Egyptian and UN officials have reportedly included discussion on easing the blockade, but by no means a complete lifting of it.

Speaking to thousands of Palestinians during prayers for the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, Haniyeh did not directly address the possibility of a truce, mooted in Israeli and Palestinian media for weeks.

“Thanks to these marches and resistance, we are just around the corner from closing the page on this unjust blockade,” he said, referring to months of violent protests along the Gaza-Israel border.

Haniyeh said any agreement would come “with a national consensus and an Arab safety net in order to establish the necessary safeguards to implement what is agreed upon.”

He seemed to be be referring to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s concerns over a truce that does not include his Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah shakes hands with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, at Haniyeh’s house in Gaza city on October 9, 2014

Abbas’s Fatah party, which dominates the PA, and Hamas have been deeply divided for more than a decade. Hamas, which openly seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of Gaza from the PA in 2007 and several attempts at reconciliation since then have failed.

Israel, along with Egypt, has imposed a blockade on Gaza since shortly after Hamas took control of the coastal enclave. Israel says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

Under the conditions of Israel’s naval blockade, goods heading to Gaza are currently shipped to Israeli ports and then trucked into Gaza.

Two Palestinians were shot dead during border protests on Friday, bringing to 171 the number killed by Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip since demonstrations began on March 30. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members.

One Israeli soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper.

A picture taken on August 17, 2018 shows tear gas canisters thrown by Israeli forces at Palestinian protesters during a demonstration along the border of the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

In addition to the border clashes, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel accuses Hamas of being behind the protests and encouraging Gazans to attempt to breach the heavily guarded border fence.

UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov and Egyptian officials have been seeking to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, which have fought three wars since 2008.

Israeli media have speculated it could involve an easing of Israel’s crippling blockade of Gaza in exchange for calm on the border and the return of the bodies of two soldiers killed in 2014 and two Israeli citizens believed held by Hamas.

The Gaza border has been notably calmer in recent days as speculation over the indirect negotiations has intensified.

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