Shin Bet head said to warn cabinet a Gaza truce without PA will strengthen Hamas

TV report quotes Nadav Argaman telling ministers a deal with terror group that ignores Abbas will ‘prove terror pays,’ bolster Hamas in West Bank, and weaken moderates

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on March 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on March 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The head of the Shin Bet security agency has warned cabinet ministers that excluding the Palestinian Authority from a long-term ceasefire deal between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip will send a message that terrorism is rewarded, Israeli television reported Thursday.

According to the Hadashot TV news report, Nadav Argaman also told members of the security cabinet that a truce that ignores PA President Mahmoud Abbas would strengthen Hamas in the West Bank, where the internationally recognized PA is based.

“Pushing aside [Abbas] from the process [of reaching an] agreement will strengthen Hamas in the West Bank and prove terror pays,” Argaman was quoted as saying. “Such a move would also weaken the moderates and prove to Palestinians that only the path of violence achieves results.”

Hamas and the PA have been at odds since the terror group violently took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. A number of reconciliation agreements between them have failed to patch up their differences, most recently an Egyptian-sponsored deal signed in October.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and then Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, right, raise their linked arms as they move through the crowd at a special session of parliament in Gaza City, March 17, 2007. (AP/Hatem Moussa/File)

In a speech Wednesday, Abbas said Hamas was not serious about a reconciliation deal. He also railed against the United States over its efforts to improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza.

The comments came after the Egyptian Intelligence Services hosted separate talks with Fatah and Hamas officials over the past several weeks to discuss reconciliation.

On Thursday, Abbas refused to meet with visiting Egypt intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, Channel 10 news reported. Kamel has been involved in the reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party, as well as the ceasefire talks on the Gaza border.

Egyptian head of Intelligence Abbas Kamel attends a meeting of Egyptian and Sudnaese Foreign Ministers and heads of intelligence at Tahrir Palace, in Cairo, Egypt, February 8, 2018. (Khaled Elfiqi/Pool photo via AP)

Kamel arrived in Israel Wednesday where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Shin Bet Chief Nadav Argaman to discuss the emerging ceasefire with Hamas.

He then intended to travel to Ramallah to meet with Abbas, but the PA chief reportedly told Kamel he was busy, a move Channel 10 described as a “humiliation” for Kamel.

Thursday’s TV reports came a day after Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom goods crossing, as relative calm set in on the Gaza border following days of border clashes and violent exchanges between the sides.

The crossing had largely 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.

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 ruling Gaza.

Trucks carrying goods enter the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing after it was reopened by Israel on August 15, 2018. (Flash90)

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.

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 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.

According to a separate Channel 10 report Thursday, Liberman met with Qatar’s envoy to Gaza during his trip to Cyprus, and the two discussed efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and Qatari proposals to improve humanitarian conditions in the Strip, as well as the return of the Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers’ bodies.

Two apparently mentally ill Israeli civilians — Avera 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 slain IDF soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

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