Western country said brokering Israel-Hamas talks on long-term ceasefire

Terror group reported to have initiated indirect talks, but Israel refusing to consider lifting Gaza blockade until ‘threat’ of Palestinian mass marches is over

Palestinian protestors burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces during clashes on the Gaza-Israel border in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
Palestinian protestors burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces during clashes on the Gaza-Israel border in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

A Western country is reportedly brokering talks between Israel and the Hamas terror organization on a deal for a long-term ceasefire in exchange for lifting the blockade over the Gaza Strip.

The indirect talks, initiated by Hamas, are a cause for concern for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who fears they could develop into political ties that would undermine demands the PA has made of Hamas, according to the report by the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat.

Israel has promised the Western country to study the offer and respond to it, but only after May 15, when Palestinians plan to hold mass demonstrations marking 70 years since the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, of Israel’s founding, the report said, citing “diplomatic sources.”

Israel said it was willing to discuss a truce, security-related issues and humanitarian issues, but “refuses to respond under the threat of marches.”

The report added that Israel was likely to demand that Hamas halt its weapons development and its attack tunnels project, in addition to dismantling the weapons of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, take part in a rally in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 5, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas is “flexible” on the first two demands, Al-Hayat said, but is unlikely to agree to disarm the Qassam Brigades or other armed groups.

Earlier this week, the Haaretz daily reported that Hamas has repeatedly in recent months expressed willingness through several channels to enter into talks with Israel over a long-term ceasefire.

The report said that in return for a years-long ceasefire, Hamas wants Israel to significantly ease the blockade over Gaza, approve large-scale infrastructure projects, and possibly agree to a prisoner swap deal.

It appeared Israel had not responded to Hamas’s overtures, the report said.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has made similar proposals in the past.

The reports follow several indications that Hamas is deeply divided as it seeks a way out of the dire situation in Gaza, where it seized power in 2007. The Strip faces an economic crisis, sanctions from the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, continued pressure from the Israeli-Egyptian security blockade, and rising internal unrest.

Last year, Mahmoud Abbas imposed a series of measures against the Gaza Strip that included suspending Palestinian Authority payments to Israel for electricity supplies to the coastal enclave. Abbas also cut off salaries to thousands of Gaza’s civil servants and forced many others into early retirement.

Illustrative: Hamas members watch as a bus carrying Palestinian prisoners arrives at the Rafah crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on October 18, 2011. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

Last month, the Israel Hayom daily reported that there were arguments between senior Hamas officials about whether to accept an Egyptian initiative to halt the group’s border “March of Return” protests and promote a prisoner swap deal.

Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar was interested in accepting the offer, while the group’s leader in general, Ismail Haniyeh, was vehemently opposed to it, according to that report, which cited senior Hamas and Egyptian sources. The group has subsequently been split into two opposing camps, it added.

An agreement on a prisoner swap deal was reached during meetings between Egyptian intelligence officials and Hamas leaders, the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported on April 18.

The two sides were said to reach agreement on the number and details of the Palestinian prisoners who would be included in a prisoner swap with Israel.

The Egyptians, the report said, have asked Hamas for information about two slain IDF soldiers whose remains the group is believed to be holding in the Gaza Strip. The two, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, were killed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which has since refused to provide any details about them.

The terror group is also believed to be holding two Israeli civilians who entered Gaza of their own volition, Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.

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

Palestinians have been holding mass weekly marches in recent weeks near the border with Israel, raising tensions and leading to deadly clashes with IDF forces. Israel says the violence is being orchestrated by Gaza’s Hamas leaders, whom it accuses of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests, which it has dubbed the “March of Return.”

Last Friday saw the sixth week of demonstrations as part of the “March of Return.” At least 431 Palestinians were injured, Gaza officials said, as some 7,000 took part in the demonstrations, flew dozens of kites with petrol bombs into Israel, hurled stones at soldiers and tried to breach the border fence. There were no Palestinian deaths reported on Friday, unlike in previous weeks.

According to the Hamas health ministry, 48 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire. Several of those dead have been identified by Israel as members of terror groups. Hamas acknowledged that five of those killed on the first Friday of protests in March were its members, but has since refrained from such admissions.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a security blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the Strip in 2007 in a bloody coup against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel says it is vital to prevent Hamas, which openly seeks to destroy the Jewish state, from importing weaponry.

Hamas has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since taking over the Strip, firing thousands of rockets across the border, and digging attack tunnels under the border.

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