Hamas treating Egyptian ceasefire proposal ‘with open mind’

Delegation from terror group leaves for Cairo; will reportedly offer 2-week trial period leading into 5-year truce which would see Israeli captives, soldiers’ bodies returned

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks to the press at the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on September 19, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks to the press at the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on September 19, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas said Wednesday it was treating Egypt’s efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire “with an open mind,” as a delegation from the terror group reportedly left the Gaza Strip through the Rafah Border Crossing for meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

After several days of discussions by Hamas’s political bureau, the organization released a statement saying that “the Politburo discussed different efforts being undertaken by several parties, especially those of the brothers in Egypt, to achieve reconciliation, lift the siege, implement development and humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip and protect our people from repeated Zionist aggression.

“The Politburo affirmed that it is working with these efforts undertaken by the relevant parties with an open mind and heart,” it added.

Months of violence along the Israeli-Gazan border has at times escalated into exchanges of fire, rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israeli cities, and Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets. The violence has been accompanied by incendiary kites and balloons launched almost daily from Gaza into southern Israel, where they started fires which have burned thousands of acres of farmland and countryside, causing millions of shekels of damage.

The Hamas delegation was led by Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy leader of Hamas, who arrived in Gaza last week, Palestinian media reported.

According to the Arabic-language Al-Quds daily, the Hamas members will present the Egyptians with their terms for a ceasefire — a five-year truce with Israel in exchange for the permanent openings of the border crossings with Israel and Egypt.

Incendiary balloons are flown toward Israel during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops east of Gaza City, along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, on July 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Under the deal, the return of a pair of Israeli citizens held in Gaza and the bodies of two soldiers seized by Hamas in the 2014 Gaza war would likely take place at a later stage.

According to the report, Hamas is still demanding that, as a precondition to negotiations for their release, Israel set free dozens of its members who had been released from Israeli prisons in a previous prisoner exchange, but were then rearrested when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by a Hamas cell in June 2014. Israel has consistently refused the condition, insisting that there be just one exchange deal hammered out.

In addition, Hamas wants an expansion of a fishing zone off the coast of Gaza, currently limited to six nautical miles (seven miles) from the coast, the report said.

A plan to establish in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula sea and air terminals meant to facilitate the flow of goods to and from Gaza would be reviewed during the first year of the ceasefire.

Firefighters extinguish a blaze near the southern city of Sderot caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip on July 31 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks Israel’s destruction, seized control of Gaza in 2007 and pushed out the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The proposal does not touch on the issue of reconciliation between Hamas and the West Bank-based PA.

The Hamas plan envisions a trial two-week ceasefire which will then lead to a wider agreement to be honored for five years, Al-Quds said.

The Israeli government will also discuss the proposal at a special cabinet meeting on Thursday, Hebrew-language media reported.

Senior Hamas officials based in Arab and Islamic countries who entered Gaza last week have been seeking the approval of other Palestinian factions for the ceasefire agreement with Israel, Palestinian sources told the London-based, Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper Monday. According to a report in the Israel Hayom daily early Tuesday, the group’s armed wing is opposed to a truce.

The United Nations and Egypt have both brokered the talks and a Hamas official said Tuesday that Qatar and Turkey are also involved in the negotiations.

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