Israel, Hamas Inch Closer to Understanding: Quelling of Violence in Return for Gaza Concessions

In talks ahead of protests marking one-year anniversary of 'March of Return,' Israel reportedly agrees to re-open border crossings, expand fishing zone

Palestinian sit near to the Israeli-Gaza border fence, ahead of the first anniversary of border protests, east of Gaza City, March 29, 2019.
Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Palestinian factions in Gaza have reached understandings with Israel ahead of protests marking the one-year anniversary of the "March of Return" demonstrations, Palestinian sources said Friday. 

A senior member of one of the groups told Haretz that this included an agreement on the part of Hamas to prevent protesters from approaching the fence separating Israel from Gaza, while Israel responds with restraint to minimize civilian injuries.

Later the source said that Israel will re-open border crossings into Gaza, expand the fishing zone in the waters off the coast of the enclave and ease restrictions on the entry of goods. Israel will also permit the entry of money from Qatar in order to provide fuel for Gaza, among other uses.

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Despite the relative calm, the Israeli army released a statement Friday night saying that an IDF tank struck a Hamas military post in the northern Gaza Strip. The attack is a response to explosives thrown over the border fence over the course of the evening, the statement said. 

A delegation of Egyptian intelligence officials held intensive talks with Hamas' leadership on Friday in an attempt to prevent violence during protests planned for Saturday.

The Egyptians have been working to convince Hamas leaders to ensure the protests don't spiral out control by taking steps such as deploying security forces to oversee events and preventing protesters from approaching the fence.

>>Read more: Hamas' troubles don't stop at the Israeli border | Analysis ■ A war now will strengthen Hamas | Opinion ■ Only one factor will determine if protests on Gaza-Israel border become a bloodbath | Analysis 

In a press conference after a meeting between the Egyptians and the Higher National Committee for Breaking the Siege in Gaza, the committee's chairman – a member of Islamic Jihad – urged people who planned to protest on Saturday to demonstrate nonviolently.

Al-Haya said Palestinian groups in Gaza had decided to view the Egyptian delegation's statements positively, and that Israel would be put to the test regarding its true willingness to ease the blockade of Gaza.

Earlier Friday, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas's political bureau, said that group stands at an "important crossroads."

"We now stand at an important crossroad for an in-depth examination of Israel's stance and determining the approach we will take in the coming hours," Haniyeh said.   

According to the Hamas leader, the organization is striving to reach understandings that Israel will honor, with "an emphasis on achieving a cease-fire agreement, halting the Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, allowing humanitarian aid to enter the enclave and implementing projects meant to solve acute problems in the Strip such as [the shortage of] electricity."

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat has been in contact with the Egyptian mediators as Israel's representative in the talks. It appears that Israel is willing to agree to certain relief measures in order to ensure quiet in Gaza until the April 9 election

The military has meanwhile continued to prepare for possible violence during the protests, with Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi visiting the fence area on Friday to approve the preparations. The number of troops along the border has been doubled, while some 200 snipers are to be deployed in the area. Three brigades have been training in southern Israel in the event that they need to be deployed during a wide-scale escalation. 

This comes after a week of border escalations in which the Israeli military carried out a series of strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning after a rocket launched from the coastal enclave targeted southern Israel.

On Monday night, Israel struck a number of targets in Gaza after a rocket fired at central Israel wounded seven Israelis in the moshav of Mishmeret.