Egyptian Delegation Arrives in Gaza as Tensions Spike on Israeli Border

Security officials hold talks with Hamas leadership amid renewed border clashes and balloon bombs sent from the Strip into Israel

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Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel, August 2020.
Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel, August 2020. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Egyptian defense officials arrived on Monday in the Gaza Strip in an effort to de-escalate tensions that have been intensifying in recent weeks on the Israeli border.

The delegation entered the Strip through the Erez border crossing, and according to sources in Gaza will hold talks with senior Hamas officials, as well as with other Palestinian factions in the coastal enclave.

PODCAST: Inside Israel's no-change, no-cost peace deal with the UAECredit: Haaretz

Earlier on Monday, four small fires were reported in the Israeli Eshkol Regional Council along the Gaza border. Firefighting teams are still scrambling to extinguish one of the fires near the Gerar stream in southern Israel.

This comes after 149 fires were ignited by the incendiary balloons in the past fortnight, according to fire and rescue services.

On Sunday, the Egyptian delegation arrived in Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj, Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, and a member of the PLO Executive Committee and of the Fatah Central Committee, Azzam al-Ahmad.

Palestinians preparing balloon bombs in the Gaza Strip, August 2020. Credit: AFP

Over the weekend, Hamas official Khalil al-Haya welcomed the proposed meeting as a positive step toward preventing a further uptick in violence.

A key issue that Hamas is planning to raise in the talks with Egypt is the implementation of earlier understandings with Israel on promoting calm. These understandings included projects that could ease both the internal pressure in Gaza and tensions with Israel.

“Letting in dual-use goods is an extremely important step, as is letting workers from Gaza enter Israel to work,” the senior Hamas official said on Sunday. “So is moving forward with an industrial park at the Erez crossing and a long list of other infrastructure projects.”

Israeli defense officials believe that recent security incidents on the Gaza border are part of an attempt by the militant group to pressure Israel to honor commitments made last year toward the militant group. However, those understandings have been delayed by Israel's ongoing political crisis.

On Sunday, Gaza's energy authority said the enclave's only power plant will shut down on Tuesday because Israel has halted required fuel deliveries, threatening a significant decrease in the Strip's energy capacity.

Hamas is also trying to convey messages to all the parties concerned that it wants Qatar’s cash installations to continue and Egypt to ease the passage of people and goods through its Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Hamas has reiterated that Israeli communities near the border won’t enjoy quiet if the understandings aren’t implemented.

On Sunday night, Israeli tanks struck Hamas observation positions in retaliation for the launching of explosive-laden balloons from Gaza and nighttime border clashes, the army said in a statement.

Hamas has also resumed weapons tests at sea and operations along the border fence, which it suspended last year after reaching an understanding with Israel. It said five Palestinians were wounded by live fire or sponge-tipped bullets during these operations and taken to the hospital.

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