Senior Hamas officials complained to Egyptian intelligence officials that Israel responded with excessive force over the weekend to protests near the border fence in Gaza.
Hamas accused Israel of intentionally targeting a large number of young men who approached the fence in order to force it and other factions operating in Gaza to respond and drag the Strip into another round of fighting.
Seven Palestinians, including two boys age 12 and 14, were killed by Israeli military fire during clashes in Gaza on Friday, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Despite the escalation in clashes between Israel and Hamas, a delegation of senior Hamas officials from the Gaza Strip, along with the organization’s overseas leadership, left for Cairo Saturday to continue talks with the heads of Egyptian intelligence. In the meetings, Hamas said they would discuss how to respond to the deaths of seven Palestinians who were killed by the IDF on Friday.
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Hamas sources said that the delegation was headed by the deputy head of the political bureau Saleh Al-Arouri and also included senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk. They said the talks in Cairo prevented a response and further deterioration for the time being.
A Hamas political source told Haaretz that the organization is trying to convince the Egyptians to continue working towards a calming with Israel, unrelated to the internal Palestinian reconciliation. The most recent proposal the Egyptians put out adopted the Palestinian Authority's position, which prefers that the internal reconciliation come ahead of any calming with Israel, arguing that a ceasefire cannot be implemented without the presence of a central government that controls both the Strip and the West Bank.
According to a report in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, quoting a senior Hamas source, Egypt understands the difficulty in finalizing the reconciliation and therefore is still trying to find a way to ease the blockade on Gaza in exchange for maintaining the calm while keeping the reconciliation negotiations on the back burner.
On Monday, Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar also reported that Norwegian sources are involved in the negotiations for a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas. Senior Hamas officials denied this report, as did an Israeli source.
According to the report, a Norwegian envoy visited Gaza in September and promised to advance positions vis-à-vis Israel. The report said Hamas showed flexibility in the preconditions it wants to set regarding the release of all prisoners who Israel rearrested after they were released as part of the Shalit deal, as long as the agreement remains "respectable."
Hamas later denied that the foreign delegations that arrived in the Gaza Strip in September addressed the prisoner exchange issue. According to Hamas sources, the organization maintains a good relationship with the Norwegians, but the prisoner exchange case is being handled mainly by the Egyptians and the Germans.
A Hamas political source in Gaza told Haaretz that the prisoners' issue is one of the most difficult ones between Israel and Hamas, and that the talks are conducted mainly through the Egyptian and German channels, as well as through contacts with UN envoy Nikolai Mladenov. The source said that Egyptian and German involvement is most dominant given the trust that has been built as well as the direct influence Egypt has over Hamas.