Hamas Official Tells Haaretz Group Wants Calm, but Expects Israel to Ease Gaza Restrictions in Return

According to another Palestinian official, the Egyptian delegation that visited Gaza signaled that Israel is willing to return to understandings reached in 2014

Palestinian protesters wave flags amid smoke from burning tires during clashes with Israeli soldiers following a demonstration near the Israel-Gaza fence, east of Gaza City, on March 8, 2019. (Photo by
MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

The next two weeks will be crucial in determining whether a violent escalation is looming in the Gaza Strip, a senior Hamas official has told Haaretz.

The group's main goal is a significant easing of the blockade placed on Gaza, and Hamas will not alter its policy if an agreement is not reached on the issue, the official said.

A delegation of Egyptian security officials visited Gaza this weekend, with the Hamas leadership telling them that the group wishes to avoid an escalation but is unwilling to accept Israeli dictates regarding conditions for preserving calm.

"Israel is attempting to force a ceasefire in exchange for a return to the situation we were in before the Marches of Return," the official told Haaretz. "In three weeks we will mark the anniversary of the marches, with more than 250 killed and thousands wounded. If someone thinks this blood was spilled in vain, then he is seriously mistaken."

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Hamas provided no details on the outcome of the Egyptian delegation's trip, with a statement only saying that the coming week will be dedicated to diplomatic work related to efforts to end the blockade and obtain economic relief measures for Gaza residents.

Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported on Saturday that the Egyptian visit was fruitless because of an Israeli refusal to agree to relief measures. According to the report, Israeli officials made it clear that relief measures would be interpreted as a capitulation, which could hurt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's prospects in the upcoming election.

The newspaper further said that the Egyptian delegation told Hamas that Israel will not be able to restrain from reacting to its provocations, including nighttime activities by the Gaza-Israel fence and launching of explosives-bearing balloons, and that Israel's response will be increasingly severe if these do not end.

However, a Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine official in Gaza who met with members of the delegation told Haaretz that the Egyptians had said Israel was prepared to implement understandings reached in 2014 and further clarified in November. According to the official, Talal Abu Zarifa, this would entail Israel expanding the fishing zone around Gaza, allowing the entry of goods and construction materials to Gaza, and improving the Strip's electricity supply.

"We understood from the Egyptians that Israel is prepared for this, but the real test twill be the end result," Abu Zarifa said. "Meanwhile, we will wait for Israel. There is no way we will cease activity near the fence as long as the understandings have not been fully implemented. They must understand in Israel that the situation in the Strip is on the verge of an explosion."

Meanwhile, Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi is reportedly set to arrive in Gaza on Sunday with a large sum of cash. A senior Hamas political official told Haaretz that these funds are intended as aid for needy families and to fund civilian initiatives, and that part of them may be used to pay salaries for Hamas officials.

The Hamas government in Gaza has recently resumed collecting taxes on goods and border crossings in an attempt to raise money to pay the salaries. Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations' Mideast envoy, is also expected to visit Gaza in the coming week.

Regarding talks toward Palestinian reconciliation, Hamas deputy politburo chief Khalil al-Haya has said that the group is willing to hold elections for the Palestinian parliament and presidency in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.

An interim government is currently in place following the resignation of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. While Ramallah is preparing to form a government headed by a loyal member of Fatah, Hamas is seeking the creation of a government of technocrats and holding elections within six months.