After Abbas, Egypt Hold Talks, Official Says Gaza Border Won't Be Opened Without PA Supervision

Despite Hamas claims on Rafah border crossing, Fatah official says crossing will not open without PA

Palestinian protesters at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza call on Egypt to open the crossing on July 6, 2017. Egypt affirmed this week that it will not open the crossing as normal without PA coordination.

The Egyptian government will not open the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on a routine basis unless Palestinian Authority forces are present at the crossing, said senior Fatah leader Azzam al-Ahmad on Monday.

Al-Ahmad accompanied Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on his visit to Cairo and in meetings with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi on Sunday.

Speaking in an interview broadcasted on Palestinian television on Monday evening, Ahmad said: “The Rafah border crossing will not be opened in a regular manner without the official and legitimate border authority [forces] subordinate to [Abbas] and with the presence of Presidential Guard.”

In meetings with the PA, Egyptian leadership emphasized in the meetings that any steps taken concerning Gaza would be made with the intention to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and Abbas.

“The relationship between [Egypt and the PA] is as strong and deeply rooted as an ancient olive tree and nothing will damage this relationship, regardless of who the leader is,” said Ahmad.

Ahmad’s statements contradict recent reports by Hamas leaders in Gaza, who expressed confidence that the Rafah crossing will soon open as normal based on understandings reached with Egypt, as expressed by Ismail Haniyeh in a speech last week. Haniyeh is a former Hamas leader and the current head of Hamas' political bureau in Gaza.

Al-Aqsa TV quoted a senior member of the Hamas delegation to Cairo as having said that Egypt was serious about easing the siege on the Gaza Strip, and that in the near future there would be other vital steps on the issue without expressing other details or whether Hamas has jurisdiction over the opening of the Rafah crossing.  

A delegation of Hamas officials returned to Gaza on Monday after a week-long stay in Cairo, during which they held meetings with Egyptian officials, particularly intelligence personnel. Hamas has been careful to project a picture of improved relations and coordination with Egypt, including on security matters.

Hamas has not denied that it reached an understanding with former Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, who is backed by Egypt, but the Egyptians have been careful so far not to make any statements that could be construed as confirming Hamas accounts.

A senior Egyptian official involved in Palestinian relations told Haaretz that Egypt is wary of taking a position that would provide Hamas with legitimacy as the ruler in Gaza on a diplomatic level. Yet in practical terms, Egypt understands that Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip, especially concerning security issues.

The contacts and steps taken between Egypt and Hamas are evaluated primarily in light of national security concerns and economic interests that could prevent an escalation or flare up in Gaza, said the Egyptian official.