Gaza Militant Groups Decide to Resume Border Protests as Egyptian Envoy Meets Bennett

Gaza sources say protests will only begin Saturday in order to give indirect talks with Israel a chance ■ Egypt invites Bennett to first official Cairo visit

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Palestinian protesters gather during demonstration along the Israeli border fence east of Gaza City on September 21, 2018.
Palestinian protesters gather during demonstration along the Israeli border fence east of Gaza City on September 21, 2018. Credit: Said KHATIB / AFP

The Palestinian militant groups in Gaza have decided to resume the protests at the border fence with Israel, even as an Egyptian envoy was meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to discuss the reconstruction of the Strip and the possibility of a long-term truce.

According to the sources, the Palestinian groups – which included Hamas and Islamic Jihad – agreed to defer the first protest until Saturday in order to signal to Israel and Egypt that they are giving the talks a chance.

Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the organizations that participated in Wednesday's summit, said that the decision to resume the demonstrations was taken in light of information that he said showed that “Israel is evading all the understandings regarding the reconstruction of the Strip and the easing of the blockade” on Gaza. Saturday's protest is expected to include a march along the fence and the launching of incendiary balloons toward Israel.

Protests along the Gaza-Israel border first erupted in March 2018, waning two years and over 200 Palestinian deaths later with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic. In February of this year, the International Criminal Court in The Hague approved its prosecutor's request to open legal proceedings against Israel and Hamas on suspicion of committing war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – including during the border protests. Israel insists that the ICC has no jurisdiction to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Also Wednesday, the head of the Egyptian intelligence services, Abbas Kamel, arrived in Israel for meetings with Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz as part of the effort to advance plans for the reconstruction of Gaza, heavily damaged in the May fighting, and for a long-term agreement between Israel and Hamas. A diplomatic source confirmed the plans for the meeting but the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office decline to comment.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Egyptian envoy Abbas Kamel in Jerusalem, August 18, 2021Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO

Kamel also invited Bennett on behalf of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to make his first official visit to Cairo in the next few weeks.

On May 30, just after a cease-fire was reached in the hostilities between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Kamel had a public meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, who was still prime minister at the time. Egypt has been playing a central role in efforts at reconstruction of the Strip, advancing efforts on three main fronts – the immediate restoration of infrastructure that was destroyed, the transfer of funds to Gaza, as Hamas has demanded, and an agreement on long-term calm, which would include the return of two Israeli civilians being held in Gaza and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who were killed in combat there is 2014.

On Monday, two rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza for the first time since May’s hostilities. As of Wednesday afternoon, Israel had not retaliated for the rocket fire. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Bennett said, “We will act at a time, place and conditions that suit us, and no other.”

Citing Egyptian officials, the London-based Arabic-language news outlet Al-Araby al-Jadid reported on Tuesday that Israeli representatives had been urgently summoned for talks in Cairo in an effort to prevent an escalation in the security situation. Israeli officials said, however, that they received no urgent summons from Cairo and that Wednesday’s meeting in Israel with Kamel had been planned in advance.

According to Al-Araby al-Jadid, an Egyptian official who had spoken with the publication had noted that Egypt had warned Israel that if it did not respond to the Egyptian summons, Cairo would have difficulty putting a stop to the cooperation between Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the one hand and Iran and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah movement on the other. Just days ago, the Egyptians noted, Ismail Haniyeh, who heads Hamas’ political bureau, and Ziad Nakhaleh, who heads Islamic Jihad, met with Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi along with senior members of the Iran Revolutionary Guards.

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