There are, once again, whispers from Gaza (whose credibility is not clear) that a comprehensive deal is being worked out for Hamas and Fatah to sign a reconciliation agreement; Gilad Shalit will be released; and the Rafah crossing and the crossing points from Israel will be reopened.
What's new this time?
Sources in Gaza say Qatar's ruler has been working on the terms of the deal for two weeks or so, and that Egypt agreed not only that Qatar should be a partner, but also to a "renewed interpretation" of the agreements between Hamas and Fatah, which was drawn up by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman months ago and signed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
These sources say Egypt's readiness to modify its position - Cairo had objected to any modifications - stems from a fear that matters are deteriorating in Gaza, and Hamas could lose control over groups firing rockets at Israel.
A loss of control could lead to a new military offensive in Gaza, the Egyptians believe, and create increased pressure on Egypt to open the border crossings. There were reports last week in Cairo that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had sent a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he outlined Egypt's efforts to arrange the release of Shalit and asked Israel, for its part, to show flexibility, both on the agreement between Hamas and Fatah and on the issue of the prisoners whom it has refused to release.
Meanwhile, Gaza is continuing to welcome visits there by senior Fatah representatives - Nabil Sha'ath was followed by Sufian Abu Zaida, who, in 2007, was attacked by Hamas activists after Hamas gained control of the Strip. Abu Zaida had not been there for almost three years. Abu Zaida, who spent 12 years in an Israeli prison but nevertheless is known for his close ties with Israelis, arrived in the Strip for a week-long visit and has declared that "the situation in the Strip is insufferable and I regret to see how matters have deteriorated." He was working toward a reconciliation with Hamas, he said.
Abbas is still determined that any new discussion of reconciliation must be conditional on Hamas' signing the agreement, but when the issue on the agenda is the declaration of an independent state, which is being furthered by his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and when the date for elections fixed in that document - June 2010 - is fast approaching, it's possible Abbas, too, will be willing to be more flexible.
It was possible to glean information about the internal pressures in Gaza and the fear that Hamas would lose control from a document published by Firas-Palestine News Press. It describes a letter from the Al-Nasser Salah ad-Din Brigades, a splinter group that broke away from the Popular Resistance Committees, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. In the letter, the organization pleads with Meshal to remove Zakaria Durmush as commander of the committees, saying "he has stolen the organization and destroyed it out of personal interests."
The writers say they are turning to Meshal via the media after failed attempts at a reconciliation with Durmush via the Hamas leadership in Gaza. "We do not have any means to fight against the occupation," they say, "because Abu Qassam (Durmush) has forbidden us to open fire - not even one shot at the Zionist enemy has been allowed for a year, and he collects our weapons and threatens to shut down the armed wing of the committees. During Operation Cast Lead, we sat at home like women and we didn't show opposition, and now we have heard that Abu Qassam is demanding money from you for war damages in Gaza."
The authors say Durmush receives $30,000 a month from the Hamas leadership and that he alone decides to whom to distribute the money. Durmush also received $500,000, they say, and no one knows where that money went. Durmush, they charge, has committed the crime of transferring information to Egypt about what is happening inside Hamas while he intends to leave Gaza and live in Syria, claiming he must live near the commanders. In short, the splinter group's leadership is telling Hamas it can't work any more with Durmush. Incidentally, a relative of that Durmush, Mumtaz Durmush, set up in Gaza what is known as the Army of Islam, which apparently has ties with Al-Qaida. Mumtaz Durmush was previously a member of Mohammed Dahlan's Preventive Security Force. There is a serious conflict between the two family members, with each commanding an armed organization that sometimes sends rockets in the direction of Israel.
How is Mubarak feeling?
Hosni Mubarak is due to return to work this week after a convalescence in Sharm el-Sheikh, and the Egyptians are expecting upheavals. Some assessments talk of Mubarak's appointing himself a deputy, carrying out far-reaching changes in his government and starting a campaign to restrict the media and build up "national consciousness." One report says Mubarak was disturbed by a survey showing that more than 80 percent of Egyptian youth would like to live outside Egypt and therefore he plans to change the school curriculum and ensure the media reports "the positive side of life" rather than the failures.
However, if Mubarak decides on any kind of "reform", it will be aimed at the increasingly popular Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is meeting with opposition parties and appearing in low-income neighborhoods to widen the public's acquaintance with him. In retaliation, Mubarak could decide to hold early presidential elections to foil the opposition's chances of organizing properly.
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