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Hamas follows up on security developments at Gaza's Egyptian border

July 6, 2017 6:16 P.M. (Updated: July 7, 2017 9:53 A.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- A Hamas delegation toured the southern border between the besieged Gaza Strip and Egypt on Thursday morning to check on recent developments implemented by Gaza’s Ministry of Interior in order to strengthen national security amid growing ties between Hamas leaders and the Egyptian government.

The delegation included Head of Gaza’s administrative committee Abd al-Salam Siyam, head of the Hamas movement in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, head of national security and Deputy Interior Minister Tawfiq Abu Naim, General of Gaza’s public security forces Hussein Abu Athara, and General Director of Gaza’s borders and crossing committee Muhammad Abu Zayed.

Gaza’s Ministry of Interior said in a statement that the tour was conducted in order to follow up on developments conducted in accordance with previous security agreements formulated between Hamas and the Egyptian government.

The tour focused on the southern border lines, the Egypt-controlled Rafah crossing, the Karam Abu Salem crossing (also known as Kerem Shalom), and several security points along the borders.

A Hamas delegation had also traveled from the Gaza Strip to Egypt on Sunday, to follow-up with a previous meeting in Cairo last month.

Abu Naim had said at the time that the talks would 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 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’s 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 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 came 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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