Hamas Likely to Accept Deal Ending Airborne Firebomb Attacks, Sources Say

Hamas is holding contacts with Egyptian intelligence in an attempt to agree on a deal that would ease Israeli restrictions on Gaza ■ Hamas source tells Haaretz: 'We don't want to return to the situation before the kites'

An Israeli firefighter dousing a blaze set by incendiary devices launched from across the border in the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, July 15, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are continuing to pursue contacts with Egyptian intelligence officials to resolve the hostilities between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The formula they propose would bring an end to the incendiary kites and balloons that are being flown from Gaza across the border into Israel – in return for easing of the blockade that Israel and Egypt have imposed on the Strip.

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Egyptian and Palestinian sources told Haaretz that Hamas is inclined to accept an agreement calling for a halt to the launching of the incendiary devices in exchange for Israel revoking its decision this week to stop fuel shipments into the Strip through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, through Sunday.

Such an agreement would also involve the opening of the Egyptian border crossing with Gaza at Rafah on a regular basis, as well as additional steps that Hamas is demanding.

>> Israel must admit the truth: Burning kites don't justify war | Analysis ■ Israel tightens embargo on Gaza, blocks fuel shipmentsIsrael strikes in northern Gaza, targeting incendiary balloon-launchers <<

"We don't want to return to the situation in which we were before the kites, because it was a bad situation in any case and it prompted us to hold marches [along the border fence], and from that, the matter of the kites developed," a senior Hamas political official told Haaretz. "What is being offered to us now is a return to the same circumstances and that won't change anything."

Hamas is not seeking a confrontation with Israel, the official added, and it understands that the continued dispatch of the fiery kites and balloons into Israel could lead to such an eventuality.

"From an operational and public diplomacy standpoint, it's easier for Israel to deal with rockets rather than balloons," he said, "so it will do everything to push Hamas and the other factions into this corner. Those in Hamas don’t want to play into Israel's hands."

In internal talks within the Islamist organization, Haaretz has learned, there are some who favor cessation of the incendiary attacks, but they are also calling for the Palestinian demonstrations along the border fence to be stepped up, since there is a consensus in support of them and they help keep the issue of the siege of Gaza on the public agenda.

A senior Islamic Jihad official, Ahmed al-Madalal, said the situation with Israel will explode if restrictions are not rolled back at the Kerem Shalom and Rafah border crossings.

"The decision to close the Rafah crossing for no justifiable reason at the same time as decisions were made regarding the Kerem Shalom crossing constitutes a blatant violation and harms the efforts Egypt is conducting to calm the situation. If this situation doesn’t change, we will be facing a head-on confrontation with the occupation," Madalal said, referring to Israel.

An Egyptian official told Haaretz that his country's intelligence community is in any case seeking to dispel tensions on the ground in Gaza as part of Cairo's efforts at reconciling Hamas with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. In return, the official said, Egypt hopes to keep the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egyptian Sinai open.

"In the end, the solution to the problem in the Strip demands a political decision and such a decision will not be made in a situation in which there is a head-on, military confrontation," the official added. "The message to Hamas is to give these efforts a chance and not to foil [them]."