Hamas leaders host Egyptian delegation for Palestinian unity talks

Meeting comes week after Cairo summit between Fatah officials and Egypt intelligence service; sides also discuss lifting Gaza blockade

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

A Palestinian man walks along the beach next to al-Shatee refugee camp on a rainy day, in Gaza City, on February 22, 2016.  AFP/MOHAMMED ABED
A Palestinian man walks along the beach next to al-Shatee refugee camp on a rainy day, in Gaza City, on February 22, 2016. AFP/MOHAMMED ABED

A group of Hamas leaders met with an Egyptian security delegation in the Gaza Strip to discuss Cairo’s efforts to advance Palestinian reconciliation Saturday.

The sides discussed Egypt’s bid to end a long-simmering feud between the Hamas terror group, which controls Gaza, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, which has dominance in the West Bank, according to a Hamas statement.

The parties also held a “deep conversation about ways to end the siege on the Gaza Strip and alleviate the suffering of our people” in the coastal enclave, the Hamas statement added.

Egypt brokered a deal between Hamas and Fatah to bring the West Bank and Gaza under one government in October 2017, raising Palestinian hopes for the possibility of reconciliation. However, the rivals have failed to implement the agreement. 

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gives a speech on the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan on May 18, 2018, at the Great Mosque in Gaza City. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

Hamas has controlled Gaza since ousting the Fatah-dominated PA in 2007 from the territory. 

Last week, the Egyptian General Intelligence Services and a Fatah delegation met in Cairo, where they held talks about reconciliation, according to Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad.

On Thursday, UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov said the failure to implement the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement was a key factor behind the Strip’s worsening humanitarian situation.

“Fatah and Hamas must engage in earnest with Egypt in order to bring back the legitimate government to Gaza,” Mladenov told a Security Council meeting.

He also warned that emergency fuel would soon run out, putting “health, water and sanitation facilities at immediate risk of shutting down.”

Aside from mediating Hamas-Fatah reconciliation efforts, Cairo has also been central to brokering periods of calm amid undulating waves of violence with Israel along the Gaza frontier.

The talks came as tensions again began to heat up along the border, with large protests near the security fence and the re-appearance of incendiary balloon and kite launches after a several week lull.

On Saturday evening, Israel said it fired at a cell in the northern Gaza Strip launching incendiary balloons toward Israel. There were no further details.

Hamas officials have demanded that any long-term ceasefire include the lifting of restrictions on movement into and out of Gaza.

Both Israel and Egypt enforce a number of restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says its blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the strips from arming or building military infrastructure. 

Palestinians bid farewell as they prepare to travel into Egypt after the Rafah border crossing was opened for three days for humanitarian cases, in the southern Gaza Strip April 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Last month, Egypt hosted a number of Palestinian factions in Cairo including Hamas to discuss a possible ceasefire and Egyptian General Intelligence Services chief Abbas Kamel reportedly visited Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman in Israel to talk to him about the matter.

Following protests from senior Fatah and PA officials, however, Egypt reportedly paused its efforts to mediate a long-term ceasefire deal between the Israel and the terror group. 

Fatah and PA officials have demanded that reconciliation efforts take precedence over a ceasefire and say that only the Palestine Liberation Organization, and not Hamas, has the legitimacy to negotiate international treaties like a ceasefire

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