The leader of the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza has left the blockaded territory for talks in neighboring Egypt after the country opened its border for a few days.
The group said in a statement that Ismail Haniyeh left Friday, two days after Egypt opened the crossing temporarily. This was the first time the Rafah border crossing with Egypt had been open in 2018.
It was believed to be Haniyeh’s first trip outside Gaza since the United States included him on its terror blacklist last month.
It said the visit aims to discuss Gaza’s economic crisis “that put Gaza on the edge of the abyss.”
Talks will also cover obstacles stalling a Palestinian unity deal with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, it said.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas from importing arms, ammunition, and material that could be used to construct fortifications and attack tunnels.
Israel and the US have accused Hamas of diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of aid meant for the residents to their military wing. The situation in the enclave was also exacerbated by the Palestinian Authority cutting off payments for electricity for nearly a year in a bid to pressure Hamas into concessions.
To the frustration of thousands of Palestinians wishing to leave Gaza, Egypt shut the frontier after the Hamas delegation crossed and its military began an anti-insurgent operation nearby.
“The Rafah border was closed today due to the security situation in Sinai, we were informed by the Egyptian authorities,” said Saleh al-Zaq, head of the civil affairs committee which controls the borders.
The Egyptian army announced Friday morning the launch of a major operation against jihadists across swathes of territory, including the Sinai Peninsula bordering Gaza.
Egypt has kept Rafah mostly closed since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007.
Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, has been under increasing pressure as the coastal enclave teeters on the verge of an economic and infrastructure collapse that UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov last week said was already “well beyond” a humanitarian crisis.
Last month, the US froze over $100 million in contributions to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, after the Palestinians announced they would no longer accept the US as a mediator in peace talks with Israel. The Palestinians were angered after US President Donald Trump on December 6 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Also this week IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned ministers during a cabinet meeting that Israel could soon face another war with Hamas, as a result of the deteriorating humanitarian and economic conditions in the coastal enclave, according to Israeli television reports.
In his briefing, Eisenkot pointed to the lack of electricity, drinkable water, and food in the Gaza Strip, according to Channel 10.