Coming Hours Will Decide Hamas' Next Steps, Political Chief Says Ahead of Gaza March Anniversary

Ismail Haniyeh says Hamas stands at 'important crossroad' as Egyptian-mediated talks continue and Israel sends additional troops to Gaza fence

Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border.
Ilan Asayag

The results of Egyptian-mediated marathon talks between Hamas and Israel will decide the group's next steps, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the group's political bureau, said Friday, one day before a mass march planned to mark the anniversary of weekly protests along the fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Hamas' leadership, as well as leaders of other factions in the Gaza Strip, were still holding talks with Egyptian mediators in order "to reach serious understandings with Israel," Haniyeh said. The remarks come after a tense week that saw rockets from Gaza wounding Israelis for the first time in years and Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets.

"We now stand at an important crossroad for an in-depth examination of Israel's stance and determining the approach we will take in the coming hours," Haniyeh said.  

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According to the Hamas leader, the organization is striving to reach understandings that Israel will honor, with "an emphasis on achieving a cease-fire agreement, halting the Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, allowing humanitarian aid to enter the enclave and implementing projects meant to solve acute problems in the Strip such as [the shortage of] electricity."

Haniyeh further stated Hamas is holding ongoing communications with Qatar to ease the blockade placed on Gaza, while discussing future plans to rehabilitate the Strip.

The military has been preparing to deploy additional forces ahead of the planned protests, with the army's spokesman saying that one division, three brigades and additional artillery units have joined troops already present near the fence.

On Thursday, the committee that organizes the weekly protests at the fence called on demonstrators to "not give Israeli snipers an opportunity to hit them," in an apparent attempt to cool tensions ahead of Saturday's protests. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to take part in protests across the Gaza Strip on Saturday, according to the committee

The Israeli military carried out a series of strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning after a rocket launched from the coastal enclave targeted southern Israel.

In the early morning on Wednesday, rocket sirens blasted in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon after renewed strikes by the Israeli army in Rafah. A rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.

Haniyeh said the "Israeli occupation got the message," and congratulated all Gaza factions for "acting to stop Israeli arrogance." Haniyeh promises to rebuild his bureau, which was destroyed Monday evening in an Israeli airstrike.

He also called on Palestinians to come protest along the border fence on Saturday in honor of the one-year anniversary of the March of Return.