Hamas Denies Existence of Plan to Relinquish Control of Gaza Amid Humanitarian Crisis

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A Palestinian girl looks through the gate of Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza during a protest calling on Egyptian authorities to open the crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Palestinian girl looks through the gate of Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza during a protest calling on Egyptian authorities to open the crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip July 6, 2017Credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

Hamas denied reports that its military wing has presented a plan that effectively would create a power vacuum in Gaza with the aim of pressuring the Palestinian Authority and the international community to solve the enclave’s humanitarian crisis.

According to a Thursday report in the Al-Aqsa television station run by Hamas, the plan includes four points whose implementation could lead to a direct confrontation with Israel.

>> As Gaza races toward collapse, Hamas shows restraint, but war still looms | Analysis <<

According to the plan, Hamas would relinquish day-to-day control of civil affairs in the Gaza Strip. The police would do their routine work with the assistance of the security forces. The military wing and other factions such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees would be responsible for security along the border with Israel.

Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a protest against Israel's new security measures at the entrance to the al-Aqsa mosque compound, in Gaza City July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed SalemCredit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

However, on Friday morning, Salah Bardawil, a member of the group's politburo, denied the report, saying that the group's political leadership has received no such proposal and had certainly not reached such a decision. He labeled the report a rumor being spread by those concerned by the situation in Gaza.

A Hamas source close to the political wing who spoke with Haaretz on Thursday said he doubted whether the organization was ready to relinquish control over the Gaza Strip. He called the television report a trial balloon meant to test reactions in Palestinian politics and among international organizations that operate in Gaza.

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For several months the Palestinian Authority has been limiting funding for the Gaza Strip. This has been evident in the cutting of salaries for PA employees in Gaza and the retiring of thousands of others.

Payments for electricity provided by Israel have also been slashed, along with permits for Gazans needing to go to Israel or the West Bank for medical treatment.

Last week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that these cuts would continue until Hamas gave up control over Gaza and dissolved the committee functioning as a de facto government. Some analysts say that the next step will be cuts to schools and other public institutions.

Hamas has assailed Abbas, claiming that these cuts are unacceptable tactics targeting civilians. The group has said that the committee will continue to function.

Hamas has launched talks with Egypt as a result of this pressure, as well as with former senior Fatah member Mohammed Dahlan. The goal is to find ways to ease the suffering of civilians, especially with a view to opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt and resolving the crisis in electricity supplies. So far no results are evident.

Hamas is also trying to open a new page with Tehran; last week a delegation visited Iran to hold meetings with senior officials including leaders of the Revolutionary Guard. Only members of Hamas’ political wing took part.

The group realizes that Iran cannot solve the humanitarian crisis because it is too far away. Thus Egypt will be the dominant player in any move to ease the suffering of Gazans.

In the Strip, the severe electricity shortage has left residents with as little as four hours of power a day in the sweltering summer heat, raising humanitarian concerns.

For several years, Gazans received roughly eight hours a day, and many rely on gasoline-fueled generators.

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