Hamas has backed an Egyptian proposal to foster calm on the Israel-Gaza border ahead of expected major protests, two officials from the terrorist group said Friday.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli side on the potential agreement, and the leader of the Gaza terror group confirmed that work was ongoing on “serious understandings” that will ease the humanitarian condition in the Strip.
Later Friday Israel’s Channel 13 reported that “understandings had been reached,” but provided no sources.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to gather Saturday for the first anniversary of the often violent protests along the border.
An Egyptian delegation held talks with Hamas and other factions in Gaza in meetings that stretched into the early hours of Friday, the officials said.
A Hamas official who took part in the meetings told AFP on condition of anonymity they had backed an Egyptian proposal that will see protesters stay several hundred meters from the border.
Hamas-backed attacks in the West Bank would also cease, the official said. In exchange, “the Egyptians informed us that the (Israelis) promised to ease their measures.”
In particular, the Israelis will not fire on protesters unless they approach the border fence and will also allow Qatar to increase the amount of aid it funnels into the Gaza Strip. The Qatari Aljazeera channel said the amount would be raised to $40 million per month, up from the current $15 million.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad also said the protests would be peaceful, but warned Israel that if their were Palestinian civilian casualties “it would lead to war.”
His remarks were confirmed by a second Hamas official. Meanwhile, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s leader, issued a statement emphasizing the concessions that his organization expected from Israel under an Egyptian-brokered agreement.
“We are working with our brothers in Egypt through the Egyptian delegation currently here in Gaza to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza in a way that ensures an end to our people’s suffering and strengthens their dignity,” he said.
“We are working to do this by reaching serious understandings that will be respected by the enemy, especially as pertains to it halting its fire and aggression, allowing the entry of humanitarian aid, implementing projects, opening crossings and expanding the fishing zone, cash for work projects, and dealing with issues such as electricity,” Haniyeh said.
“We will continue our marathon talks with the Egyptian brothers, which have been ongoing since the day before yesterday and include the national factions, in order to complete all prior dialogue and achieve the desired goal,” he said.
“We are at a crossroads and seriously reviewing the occupation’s positions and responses to our people’s demands. In accordance with that, the path which will be taken in the coming hours and in the million man march on Land Day tomorrow will be set,” he said.
“All options are on the table,” Haniyeh said.
The comments came as the Israeli military continued its preparations for a possible outbreak of violence at the protests and after an Egyptian delegation reportedly told Hamas that any mistake it makes could lead to war.
The Israeli military said Thursday it is readying for protests along the Gaza border planned for Saturday, Palestinians’ Land Day, and a possible outbreak of violence. Land Day also marks a year since the start of weekly violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border, known as the March of Return, which at times have escalated into exchanges of fire between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the coastal enclave, most recently earlier this week.
An Egyptian military intelligence delegation has been working to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ahead of the mass protest, amid fears that clashes along the border could snowball into a larger conflagration.
On Thursday, the delegation passed a message from Israel to Hamas, telling the Gaza-ruling terror group: “Any mistake you make on Saturday could lead to war,” Channel 12 news reported.
According to the report, Hamas is planning a mass transportation operation for Saturday, picking up protesters from 38 locations in the enclave and shuttling them to five sites along the border. Field hospitals have reportedly been set up at various points, and medical facilities in the Strip are on an emergency footing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he’d ordered the military to prepare for an “extensive campaign” should Egypt-brokered ceasefire negotiations fail.
Ahead of the protests and riots expected for the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces deployed three additional brigades to the Gaza Division, along with an artillery battalion, and called up reservists from air defense and other select units.
According to the Walla news site, senior commanders are preparing for a variety of scenarios, including the possibility of deterioration to the point of a large-scale ground operation.
The military canceled weekend leave for all combat soldiers stationed in the Southern Command and published a video it said showed troops in recent days preparing for fighting inside Gaza, including training for urban warfare and house-to-house fighting similar to the conditions in the Strip.
A number of residents of Israeli communities along the Gaza border have chosen to leave the area for the weekend ahead of the planned demonstrations.
A tense calm settled over the region Wednesday morning after an outbreak of violence that started after a rocket fired from Gaza struck a farming community in central Israel early Monday, leveling a home and injuring seven people, including two small children.
Israeli warplanes subsequently carried out dozens of bombing runs and Gazans fired some 60 projectiles at southern Israel, with the violence only waning before dawn Wednesday.
Saturday, Palestinian Land Day, marks a 1976 decision by the Israeli government to seize thousands of dunam of Arab-owned land in the Galilee region of northern Israel.
Last year on Land Day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched the Great March of Return, a series of weekly protests and riots along the security fence that have at times seen the participation of tens of thousands of Palestinians. Israel maintains that the Hamas terror group appropriated the campaign for nefarious purposes, using the civilian protesters as cover for violent activities. An Islamist terror group, Hamas avowedly seeks to destroy Israel.
Some 30,000 Palestinians participated in the first protest event, held on March 30 2018. Fifteen Palestinians were killed in clashes with IDF soldiers protecting the border. Since then over 180 Palestinians have been killed in border violence, according to February figures from the UN Human Rights Council. Hamas has claimed dozens of the dead as members.
Israeli defense officials — as well as Hamas’s political foe, the Palestinian Authority — accuse the terror group of encouraging the border riots in an effort to distract from its failures in governing the Gaza Strip, a crowded patch of land with crushing unemployment, limited access to electricity and potable water, and few economic prospects.
Adam Rasgon and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.