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Egyptian Intelligence Pressures Hamas to Hand Over Gaza to Palestinian Authority

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Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh attends a rally marking the 30th anniversary of Hamas' founding, Gaza City, December 14, 2017.
Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh attends a rally marking the 30th anniversary of Hamas' founding, Gaza City, December 14, 2017.Credit: \ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Egypt’s intelligence service is applying heavy pressure on Hamas to get it to move forward on its reconciliation deal with the rival Fatah party and hand control of the Gaza Strip over to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

Senior Hamas officials, led by the head of the organization’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, have been holding talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo for the last 10 days. Normally, their visits to Egypt last only four or five days.

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Sources in Gaza and Cairo said Hamas and Egypt are both trying to find a way to advance the reconciliation. Neither Hamas nor Egyptian intelligence has divulged any details about the talks, but the sources said Egypt is exerting heavy pressure on Hamas.

Palestinians supporting Hamas take part in a rally marking the 30th anniversary of Hamas' founding, Gaza City, December 14, 2017.Credit: \ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

PA officials said that because of this pressure, several members of Hamas’ political bureau were summoned to Egypt. Hamas confirmed earlier this week that three bureau members – Moussa Abu Marzouk, Izzat Al-Rishiq and Mohammed Nasser – have arrived in Cairo.

The delegation also includes officials from Hamas’ military wing. Hamas sources said this raises the possibility that a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel is also being discussed.

“The Egyptians are very worried by the implications of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and are continuing their efforts to find a formula that would enable the reconciliation to be implemented,” a Palestinian source in Gaza said.

But so far, Hamas and Fatah have been unable to reach a compromise. Hamas claims the Fatah-controlled PA has failed to implement the reconciliation even though Hamas fulfilled its part by handing control of Gaza over to the PA. The PA claims that this transfer of control was a mere facade, and in reality, Hamas forces still dominate Gaza and Hamas still collects taxes there.

This dispute was evident following yesterday’s meeting of the PA cabinet in Ramallah, when the cabinet released a statement saying the PA’s 2018 budget also includes funding for Gaza. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum promptly termed the cabinet’s statement a lie and accused PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah of contributing to Palestinian suffering in Gaza.

The French paper Le Figaro reported that the PA has budgeted about $480 million to finance the salaries of some 20,000 civil servants in Gaza, but that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said the money won’t be transferred unless the PA is quickly given full control over the territory’s police, justice system and financial and budgetary system.

A foreign diplomat who is in regular contract with the PA government told the French paper that to the best of his understanding, the PA is insisting that Hamas hand over control of Gaza by the end of the month, and if not, the reconciliation will be dead.

Sources in both Fatah and Hamas say that despite all the discussion of economic issues, what the PA mainly wants is for Hamas to give up its military wing and its consequent security control over Gaza. If this doesn’t happen, they say, no significant progress on the handover of Gaza’s civilian affairs to the PA is likely to occur.

But sources close to Hamas in Gaza speculated that Egypt might try to reach some agreement with Hamas independent of the PA in an effort to keep Gaza from humanitarian collapse. They said Cairo has been talking with Mohammed Dahlan, a former senior Fatah official who is now Abbas’ bitter rival, about an alternative plan that Dahlan has been pushing in light of the impasse in the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

Abbas himself is in New York, where he will address the Security Council on Tuesday and urge it to recognize Palestine as a state.

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