Egyptian Delegation to Meet With Senior Hamas Officials in Attempt to Ease Border Tensions

Hamas political chief says Israel has violated the conditions of lull in violence and is using Qatari money as a political tool to pressure the group

Tear gas is fired by Israeli forces as Palestinian demonstrators protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip March 1, 2019.
Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

A delegation of senior Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to meet with senior Hamas leaders in an attempt to ease tensions along the border and return to the understandings reached in the past between Hamas and Israel, Palestinian media outlets reported Tuesday.

Hamas says Israel has not kept its part of the understandings, including easing the blockade on the Gaza Strip, extending the area allowed for fishing and advancing infrastructure projects in Gaza, such as electricity production.  

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However, the head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, says the Israeli special forces operation in Khan Yunis that was exposed in November was a violation of the understandings. In addition, Haniyeh said Israel has used the Qatari aid as a political tool in order to pressure Hamas. The organization refused to accept the third delivery of Qatari cash in January, blaming the conditions Israel set for the transfer and claiming it failed to abide by its agreement to permit the funds to enter the enclave every month.

A senior Hamas political official in Gaza told Haaretz that the Gaza Strip will not be another punching bag for Israel and the Palestinian Authority and what it was unacceptable for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to impose sanctions on one hand, while Israel increases its pressure on Gaza at the same time. “This will lead to an explosion. This is what the Egyptians are trying to prevent,” added the official.

In recent weeks, Hamas has renewed the launching of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel, along with nighttime violence in the area along the border fence with Israel, which were halted when Israel began to allow the Qatari money to enter Gaza. The renewed actions by Hamas have brought on a more aggressive Israeli responses in return, and Israeli officials have warned that the friction could lead to a violent escalation.

The official heading the Qatari committee for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, is expected to arrive in Gaza in the next few days, according to local reports. He is expected to discuss the advancement of infrastructure projects in Gaza, in coordination with the United Nations, along with employment projects. One of the issues expected to be brought up in the talks with al-Emadi – and which is considered to be extremely sensitive for Hamas – is the salary payments to Hamas government officials.

The first two consignments of the Qatari cash were used in part to pay these salaries, but last month the group rejected the conditions imposed by Israel to receive the third allotment. In the end, Hamas accepted the funds but said it would only use the money for humanitarian projects.

As a result, last month the organization went back to collecting fees and taxes from Gaza residents, including at the border crossings, in an attempt to find alternative sources to pay salaries and other expenses.