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Hamas delegation leaves for Cairo to build on ongoing talks

July 2, 2017 12:21 P.M. (Updated: July 2, 2017 11:06 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A Hamas delegation departed from the Gaza Strip for Egypt on Sunday morning, to follow-up with a previous meeting in Cairo last month, amid growing ties between Gaza’s de facto ruling party and the Egyptian government, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza said Sunday.

According to a statement from the Hamas movement, the delegation was headed by member of the faction's politburo Rawhi Mushtaha.

Deputy Interior Minister Tawfiq Abu Naim said the talks will build on agreements already reached between Hamas and Egypt during a similar visit last month, which notably included the construction of a 100-meter-wide “buffer zone” on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt and 12-kilometer long road along the borderline, where surveillance cameras, watchtowers, and lights will be installed.

Abu Naim, who was a member of the delegation to Cairo, said Sunday that the Egyptian said “has shown willingness to allow new heavy equipment and security cameras to enter Gaza to reinforce the level of security at the border.”

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasim also said in a statement that relations with Egypt were “going through a positive turning point” following the “understandings” conducted in Cairo during last month’s visit.

He said that Hamas and official authorities in the Gaza Strip were undertaking a number of measures toward increasing security at the besieged coastal enclave’s shared border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, stressing that Hamas understands that “Egyptian national security is part of Palestinian national security, and both sides have an interest in reinforcing relations.”

Qasim also expressed hope that the bilateral relations would further develop in the near future to include an agreement to open the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing, which is sealed for the majority of the year, stranding Palestinians on both sides of the border.

Abu Naim unveiled the beginnings of the new buffer zone last week, amid reports that bulldozers were expected to demolish a series of homes and structures along the border for the project.

Abu Naim said that the buffer zone being constructed inside Palestinian lands will become “a closed military zone,” in order to facilitate the surveillance and preventing drug smuggling and the infiltration of “wanted men” -- presumably referring to fugitives wanted by Egypt.

The deputy minister pointed out that the procedures would continue until “complete control” was achieved over the southern border.

Hamas has increased efforts to improve ties with Cairo, which has long accused the de facto Gaza ruling party of aiding an insurgency in the northern Sinai Peninsula, which has been met with a harsh ‘counterterrorism’ crackdown by Egyptian authorities.

In April 2016 Hamas set up dozens of new border posts in an attempt to improve relations with Egypt.

While Hamas has consistently denied allegations of involvement in the Sinai insurgency, the Palestinian political faction has a vested interest in increasing security cooperation with Egypt, amid a diplomatic siege by Egypt and other Arab countries on Hamas’ long-time supporter Qatar, where the former head of Hamas’ politburo was based.

In the initial days of the diplomatic crisis, Qatar’s relationship with the Hamas “terror group” was cited as a main justification for the siege, but in the end, severing ties with Hamas did not make it on Saudi Arabia’ list of demands to Doha.

Now that Hamas’ leadership is concentrated in Gaza, the political party is dependent on the goodwill of the Egyptian government to maintain its leaders’ freedom of movement through their shared border, where Cairo has enforced a brutal, decade-long Israeli siege.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ strengthened relationship with Egypt comes amid a growing alliance with discharged Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan -- with whom Hamas has confirmed an alliance to challenge the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

Dahlan reportedly met head of Hamas in Gaza Yahya Sinwar during the visit to Cairo -- supposedly without the knowledge of overall Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, indicative of a political split within the party -- which was followed by a leaked report alleging that Dahlan was slated to be appointed as head of Gaza’s de facto government.

Hamas’ shifting allegiances come as Palestinians trapped in Gaza are coping with just a few hours of electricity a day after Israel drastically reduced electricity supplies to the enclave, and rights groups have insisted Israel bears the brunt of responsibility for the crisis despite the ongoing Fatah-Hamas feud.
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