Hamas leader heads to Cairo ahead of Gaza protests
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Hamas leader heads to Cairo ahead of Gaza protests

Ismail Haniyeh thought to be negotiating deal for economic benefits in exchange for Palestinian demonstrators not storming Israel border fence

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gestures as he makes a stop on April 9, 2018, at the site of violent "March of Return" protests on the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City.  (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gestures as he makes a stop on April 9, 2018, at the site of violent "March of Return" protests on the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The head of Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, left for Cairo on Sunday, sources in the movement said, a day before major protests are expected in the enclave both over the US’s controversial Jerusalem embassy move and to mark Nakba Day, a national day of Palestinian mourning for the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding.

Nakba Day is commemorated every year on May 15 but was moved forward this year to coincide with the embassy move and to avoid falling during the holy month of Ramadan.

Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh passed through the Rafah crossing early Sunday and was expected to meet the head of Egypt’s security services, the sources said, as speculation mounts that Egypt is seeking to negotiate a deal with Hamas to ease potential violence on Monday, when tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to gather along the border between Gaza and Israel.

Hamas leaders have voiced support in recent days for attempts to break the fence into Israel, despite the possibility of it leading to bloodshed.

Arab media have speculated that Egypt, one of only two Arab countries to have a peace treaty with Israel, could ease border restrictions with Gaza and offer economic relief in exchange for protesters not trying to breach the fence.

IDF soldiers on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip as thousands of Palestinians demonstrate near the border fence, April 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The moving of the embassy, a campaign pledge by US President Donald Trump, has infuriated Palestinians, who view the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Haniyeh is expected to return to Gaza late Sunday ahead of the protests.

In recent Fridays, Palestinian protesters have burned tires along the fence, hurled stones at Israeli troops, and flown incendiary kites that have set fire to fields on the Israeli side of the border. Some of the protesters, mainly youths, brandished wire cutters, a popular tool in weekly attempts to cut through the border fence.

According to the Hamas health ministry, 48 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire. Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence, and attacks.

Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach of the Gaza fence, in which Palestinians would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, has vowed in the past that protesters would “breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa” mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

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