Top Hamas leader arrives in Gaza amid renewed reconciliation, truce efforts

Egypt and a UN official said to receive assurances Israel will not harm terror chief Saleh Arouri while he is in Strip, a first visit since Israel expelled him in 2010

Hamas deputy political chief Saleh al-Arouri, after signing a reconciliation deal with senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, during a short ceremony at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2017. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty)
Hamas deputy political chief Saleh al-Arouri, after signing a reconciliation deal with senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, during a short ceremony at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2017. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty)

Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy chairman of Hamas’s politburo, arrived in the Gaza Strip on Thursday for talks on renewed reconciliation efforts with Fatah and a truce with Israel, Hamas-linked media reported.

Arouri, who helped found Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank, has been based in various Arab and Islamic countries since Israel deported him from the territory in 2010 and is slated to visit Gaza after holding talks with the Egyptian Intelligence Services in Cairo.

Israeli intelligence officials believe that Arouri helped plan the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens — Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel — as well as numerous other attacks. He had served several terms in Israeli jails, and was released in March 2010 as part of efforts to reach a larger prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit, an IDF corporal kidnapped by Hamas in 2006. Arouri went on to be involved in sewing up the deal that provided for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in return for the freeing of Shalit in 2011.

Egypt and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov received assurances that Israel will not harm Arouri while he visits the Strip, the Ynet news site reported citing Palestinian sources.

Senior Hamas officials based in Arab countries have not visited Gaza since Egyptian president Muhammed Morsi was deposed in July 2013.

According to a report by the Hamas-linked Al-Quds TV, senior Hamas officials Musa Abu Marzouk and Husam Badran, who both also reside outside the West Bank and Gaza, were also to accompany Arouri.

Members of of Hamas’s armed wing ride vehicles on the streets of Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The report said that Arouri will discuss intra-Palestinian reconciliation efforts during his visit to the Strip. 

The Egyptian Intelligence Services hosted both Fatah and Hamas delegations for separate talks in Cairo this past week in an attempt to revive reconciliation efforts, which have been at a standstill for the past several months.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum appeared to confirm the Al-Quds TV report, telling the Hamas-affiliated al-Resalah news site that a delegation of the terror group’s leaders will arrive in Gaza on Thursday. 

Barhoum said the delegation will meet with other Hamas leaders in Gaza and discuss an“end to the siege” — Israel’s blockade of the Strip, which it maintains is crucial for preventing the entry of weapons.

Arouri’s visit came as the Israeli security cabinet was set to meet Sunday to discuss a possible emerging deal to end the ongoing Gaza violence.

For over three months there have been near-weekly violent border protests heavily organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Deadly clashes along the Israeli-Gazan border have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. One Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper.

More than 100 Palestinians have been killed, more than half members of armed groups, and thousands wounded.

The possible deal is being brokered by Mladenov, who has been meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.

Arouri was expected to meet with Hamas Politburo chairman Ismail Haniyeh and other top Gaza-based Hamas officials.

For several years, Arouri has led Hamas’s military activities in the West Bank and orchestrated many terror attacks there. 

However, since he became deputy Hamas Politburo chairman in 2017, Arouri has delegated some responsibilities for running Hamas’s terror activities in the West Bank to Abdul Rahman al-Ghneimat, one of the group’s operatives based in Gaza, Yaari said in a phone call.

Arouri is also one of Hamas’s most closely connected officials to Iran and Hezbollah. He visited Tehran at least three times in the past year and met Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in October 2017.

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