Israel-Hamas ceasefire to last a year, deal includes sea lane to Cyprus – report

Lebanese TV channel says there will be Israeli security control over cargo boat traffic to Palestinian coastal enclave; Qatar to pay electricity bill for Strip

A picture taken on July 20, 2018, shows an Israeli Merkava battle tank patrolling along along the border with the Gaza Strip near Kibbutz Nahal Oz in southern Israel. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
A picture taken on July 20, 2018, shows an Israeli Merkava battle tank patrolling along along the border with the Gaza Strip near Kibbutz Nahal Oz in southern Israel. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

A reported truce agreement aimed at calming weeks of border clashes and violent exchanges between Israel and Hamas on the border with the Gaza Strip will last for a year and see the establishment of a cargo shipping connection between Gaza and Cyprus, a Lebanese television channel reported Thursday.

Israel will have security control over the sea traffic between the Palestinian coastal enclave and Cyprus, according to a brief Thursday report from the Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen television channel, which cited sources familiar with the details.

Hamas has long made access to a sea port a key strategic goal. Under the conditions of Israel’s naval blockade, goods heading to Gaza are currently shipped to Israeli ports and then trucked into Gaza.

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

Local security officers work to put out a fire, sparked by incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip, in the Hevel Shalom area of southern Israel on June 26, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

Egypt, too, has kept its Gaza border crossing largely closed during years of sour relations with the Islamist group ruling Gaza.

The sources told al-Mayadeen that the forthcoming deal will include Qatari funding for Gaza’s electricity bills in cooperation with Israel, and Qatari payment of civil service employees’ salaries in Gaza in cooperation with Egypt.

Gaza has limited electricity supplies and civil servants have not been paid for months due to a spat between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

The hope is to ink a final deal by Friday, the report said.

Recent violence along the border has included airborne arson attacks on Israel, rocket fire at southern Israel, clashes and retaliatory airstrikes on Hamas targets.

Illustrative. A picture taken on July 14, 2018, shows Palestinian rockets being fired from Gaza toward Israel (AFP/Bashar Taleb)

In a related development, the head of Egyptian intelligence, Major General Abbas Kamel, visited Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Kamel’s visit was first reported by the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, which said he had come to to discuss final arrangements of a truce agreement. The trip was later confirmed by an Israeli official, who said the Egyptian intelligence chief met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nadav Argaman, the head of the Shin Bet security agency.

Kamel was in Israel as a guest of National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, the official said.

Kamel was scheduled to meet Thursday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Al-Hayat reported, citing Palestinian sources.

Along with halting the recent fighting, the Egypt-brokered plan includes humanitarian projects for Gaza, and future indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the exchange of prisoners, the newspaper reported.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center, speaks with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, right, and other senior military officers during a visit to the Gaza Division on August 13, 2018. (Shahar Levi/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman pitched the idea of setting up a floating dock for Palestinian sea traffic in Cyprus when he met with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in June, Hadashot TV news reported at the time.

The plan was conditional on the return of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers held by the Hamas terror group, the television report said.

The dock would include a system enabling Israeli monitoring to prevent Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, from using the opportunity to smuggle weapons and materials for terror attacks into Gaza. Goods would then be shipped to Gaza on smaller vessels.

Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

Two apparently mentally ill Israeli civilians — Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — who entered Gaza of their own volition in 2014 and 2015, respectively, are currently being held Hamas, along with the remains of two IDF soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Hamas last week said it reached a ceasefire with Israel brokered by Egypt and the United Nations to end the flareup in violence, though this was denied by Israel.

The agreement was reported to see Hamas halt attacks in exchange for the opening of border terminals and an expanded fishing zone.

After relative calm since the beginning of the week, Israel on Wednesday opened the Kerem Shalom goods crossing into the Gaza Strip.

Jerusalem has officially been mum on the talks with Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group which seized control of the Strip in 2007 from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and seeks to destroy Israel.

Trucks loaded with goods and merchandise make deliveries to the Gaza Strip after the Kerem Shalom crossing was opened on August 15, 2018. (Flash90)

However, local leaders in communities near the Gaza border and hawkish politicians on the national stage have been pushing the government and army to take a harder line toward Hamas, even at the risk of war, due to fears the almost daily airborne arson attacks and other cross-border violence will return if Israel does not take expanded military action.

The Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza had been closed for over a month as punishment for the regular violence along the border, bouts of rocket fire and daily incendiary kite and balloon attacks since March 30, the start of the “March of Return” protests, a series of demonstrations — often violent — along the Gaza security fence.

The arson attacks started fires which have burned thousands of acres of farmland and countryside causing millions of shekels in damage.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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