Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman reportedly met secretly in Cyprus two months ago with Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, to discuss the enclave’s humanitarian crisis and the return of captive Israeli civilians and fallen soldiers, held by the Hamas terror group.
Liberman met Muhammad al-Amadi at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on June 22 during a visit for a summit with the Cypriot and Greek defense ministers on the island, Channel 10 reported late Thursday.
During the meeting, al-Amadi offered unspecified Qatari proposals for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, as well as solutions to the question of the Israeli captives, the report said. He also pledged some $350 million to humanitarian projects in Gaza as part of any deal.
The meeting may have been kept secret because Israel has publicly rejected Qatari mediation between itself and Hamas, preferring the Egyptian channel. Egypt has joined Israel in maintaining the blockade on the Hamas-ruled strip at least since 2014, and seeks to expand its influence over the territory, despite the efforts of Hamas backers such as Qatar and Turkey to intervene on the group’s behalf.
Even so, both the US and Israel have sought to keep Qatar involved in the process, in part as a key funder of any future humanitarian projects that emerge from agreements with Hamas. Qatar is all but alone among wealthy Arab states willing to pour humanitarian funding into Gaza. Many others, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, fear that their funds would only serve to strengthen Hamas’s rule in Gaza and influence over Palestinian politics generally.
According to Israeli officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Wednesday with Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel, the head of Egyptian military intelligence and Cairo’s pointman on Gaza.
Kamel also met with National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat and Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman.
The contacts come as Israeli and Hamas leaders consider ceasefire proposals slowly pieced together by the UN Mideast peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov and others.
Earlier Thursday, a Lebanese-based TV channel reported that the long-term deal taking shape will last for a year and see the establishment of a cargo shipping connection between Gaza and Cyprus. Israel will have security control over the sea traffic between the Palestinian coastal enclave and Cyprus, according to the report from the 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 PA. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel in the last decade.
Egypt, too, has kept its Gaza border crossing largely closed during years of sour relations with the Islamist group.
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.
Along with halting the recent fighting, the Egypt-brokered plan supposedly includes humanitarian projects for Gaza, and future indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the exchange of prisoners, the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat reported.
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 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 Hamas, the television report said.