Hamas announced Monday that, through Qatari mediation, a deal had been reached to avoid an escalation and restore calm along the border with Israel after several weeks of high tensions.
"After a round of talks, mediated by the Qatari representative, Mohammed al-Emadi, an understanding has been reached to avoid an escalation and stabilize the situation. Several projects were announced that will serve and alleviate the situation for our people in Gaza, given the coronavirus crisis that has struck us," a statement from Hamas Leader Yahya Sinwar's office said.
The Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories said that the Kerem Shalom border crossing would be reopened on Tuesday, and that the zone permitted for fishing around Gaza be returned to 15 nautical miles.
Sources in Hamas told Haaretz that in a meeting that Al-Emadi held with the group's leadership, he spoke about Israeli agreement to continue allowing Qatari cash to enter Gaza. The sources further said that Israel gave approval for Qatar building a gas pipeline, the operation of a power station funded by Qatar, and to work to create a supply line of electricity to Gaza, alongside the creation of projects to boost employment in the Strip and delivery of coronavirus testing equipment. According to sources in Gaza, Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke with Qatar's foreign minister about the understandings that were reached on Monday.
Defense officials meanwhile said that the agreement includes a Qatari commitment to increase the annual sum of money it provides for Gazans, apparently for a period of several months. Israeli officials are also crediting the recent restriction that significantly reduced Gaza's power supply with Hamas' decision to reach an understanding. The coronavirus outbreak is also seen as a likely factor.
The agreement came after weeks of escalating conflict, following a lull amid the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Incendiary balloons launched from Gaza have been occurring daily, with the military striking Hamas targets in Gaza in response each time. Rocket fire from Gaza was also resumed, also prompting military strikes. As late as Monday night, one incendiary balloon was found on the beach of Ashdod in southern Israel.
Hamas recently warned that humanitarian conditions in Gaza are worsening due to the lack of progress in talks with Israel over lifting the closure on the territory and a continued maritime blockade, as well as the shutdown of Gaza’s only power station for the past two weeks, which has left the territory with only three to four hours of power each day.
Earlier Monday, the Gaza Health Ministry warned of an increase in coronavirus infections. Dr. Ashraf Alkudra, spokesman for the ministry, said at a press briefing on Monday evening that there was a major shortage of testing kits at Gaza hospitals. Alkudra said medical and emergency response personnel have been working with very limited means to try to stop the spread of the disease and that the decision to maintain the lockdown, now in its sixth day, has been extended to the coming days.
Medical personnel in Gaza said they were very concerned over the loss of control over the disease, particularly among the severely ill who would require ventilators. There are only 90 available ventilators in Gaza, they said, of which 10 were donated by the World Health Organization.
Three people have died from the coronavirus in Gaza within a week, compared to just one fatality in the outbreak's first wave.