Egyptian intelligence officials have reportedly agreed to help increase the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip if Hamas will hand over locals suspected of terror acts in return. The officials also pledged to open the Egyptian-Gaza border crossing at Rafah, under certain conditions.
During a meeting last week between the heads of Egyptian intelligence and the leaders of Hamas, which controls the Strip, the Egyptians presented a list of 17 wanted men from Gaza along with a list of security demands, according to a report in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat. The newspaper item said that Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar and the head of the Islamist movement's internal security forces, Tawfiq Abu Naim, participated in the meeting.
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According to the report, the Egyptians have demanded tighter supervision over the goings-on at the Gaza-Sinai border, an end to arms smuggling into Sinai, and security cooperation between Hamas authorities and Egyptian intelligence, especially with respect to the underground tunnels (between Gaza and Egypt) used by terrorists to enter and leave the Strip. In return, the Egyptians promised more frequent openings of the Rafah border crossing, expedited treatment of humanitarian cases and assistance in supplying desperately needed electricity to Gaza.
The report, which has not received any verification from sources in Egypt or Gaza, emphasizes that the Egyptians believe that Hamas is feeling pressure due to its crisis with Qatar, and that the militant group is more dependent now on Cairo to help in its relations with other states. The Egyptians apparently attribute significance to the fact that the two heads of Hamas, Sinwar and political chief Ismail Haniyeh, are now based in Gaza; in the past, the head of Hamas’ political wing, Khaled Meshal, had been based in Doha, the Qatari capital.
With the return of a delegation headed by Sinwar to Gaza on Monday, Hamas sources denied any agreement with the Egyptians, but noted that their meetings had been positive and focused on security issues along with efforts at reconciliation – even though that prospect seemed distant.
Meanwhile, on Monday Palestinian Authority intelligence chief Majid Faraj called on Hamas to dismantle the administrative committee it created in Gaza and not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
“Hamas is dragging us to a place that can lead us to a place in which the consequences will be grave,” Faraj said at a meal ending the daily Ramadan fast, in the West Bank town of Nablus,
Faraj, who rarely speaks in public, said that for its part, the PA seeks to avoid interfering in the affairs of other countries. He also clarified that he is a partner to all political discussions and that the Palestinian leadership, headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, will not back down on Palestinian national principles and will not give up an inch of the land of Palestine in any negotiations with Israel regarding a two-state solution to the conflict.
An Egyptian security source privy to the details of the discussions told Haaretz that such a meeting was necesary and expected following Hamas's internal elections.
"The Gaza Strip is directly linked to Egypt's national security issues, particularly in regard to what is going on in northern Sinai," the source said.
"It is important to understand that the discussions with Hamas at these and other levels have been taking place all the time, including at times of acute crisis. However this time Egypt decided to set the terms of the meeting and give it a certain measure of publicity, particularly on Sinwar's arrival to Cairo... in order to clarify certain points and to put a number of issues on the table," the source said.
According to the source, the Egyptian request to extradite the 17 wanted men is not a new one.
"For years already this request has been made," he said. "In the past Hamas even suggested that an Egyptian security delegation go to Gaza and interrogate the men themselves, however the request was turned down by the Egyptians who demanded that the wanted men, the majority of which are Palestinian, be investigated [in Egypt] for taking part in terror attacks in Sinai."
The Egyptians do not have high estimations that Hamas will cooperate with the extraditions, particularly in relation to suspects that are linked to the Hamas movement. However, it is more likely that they will be compliant with suspects that are a part of ISIS and operatives who infiltrated Gaza from Sinai, and expect Hamas to cooperate against smuggling related to ISIS activities.
Additionally, according to diplomatic and security sources, Egypt is hoping for greater Hamas cooperation this time around in light of the fact that Sinwar was freed as part of an agreement of which Egypt was a broker.
"To a certain extent Sinwar owes his release to Egypt," an Egyptian security source said.
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