Thursday,24 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)
Thursday,24 May, 2018
Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A new dawn in Gaza?

Hamas talks in Cairo are close to a breakthrough, writes Ahmed Eleiba


A new dawn in Gaza?

A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo earlier this week to resume talks about the Gaza Strip. The delegation is headed by Ismail Haniyeh, chief of Hamas’ political bureau. Observers in Cairo believe Haniyeh’s participation indicates discussions are moving in the right direction and a breakthrough is imminent in talks which first began in February.

A new dawn in Gaza?

Among the Hamas delegation are representatives of the movement’s members abroad — Moussa Abu Marzouk and Saleh Al-Arouri flew from Turkey. Yehia Al-Senwar, Hamas’ head in Gaza, his deputy Khalil Al-Hayya and Rouhi Moushtahi arrived in Cairo after the Rafah border crossing was opened expressly to allow them through.

The talks in Cairo focus on four basic issues, border control, security, reconciliation and prisoners of war, Tarek Fahmi, a political researcher at the National Centre for Middle East Studies, told Al-Ahram Weekly. The Hamas delegation is also keen to discuss ways living conditions in the Strip can be improved and are pushing for agreements that will increase the supply of electricity to Gaza and open the Rafah crossing. Fahmi believes Haniyeh’s participation in the latest round of talks signals a new phase in the discussions which will directly impact the situation in Gaza.

By the time this article went to press the delegation had had four meetings in Cairo. The discussions, says Hamas spokesman Taher Al-Nounou, were warm and positive.

“The Hamas leadership is carefully boosting its relationship with Cairo by building on the talks previously held,” said Al-Nounou.

Three Hamas delegations have already visited Cairo this year. The aim of the initial visits was to settle the dispute between Hamas and Mohamed Dahlan, Fatah’s onetime strongman in Gaza. Sources within Hamas told the Weekly that a committee has been formed to decide on financial compensation to be paid to the families of those killed and injured in clashes between Hamas and Dahlan’s forces. A separate Palestinian source said some families had already received compensation.

In previous talks Cairo had asked Hamas to dismantle the committee which administers the Strip, a demand it shares with Islamic Jihad. While the committee has not yet been closed a Palestinian source told the Weekly it will soon be disbanded.

Border security is high on the agenda of this week’s talks.

“Hamas has finished the second phase of the security wall which now extends for 12km along the border with Egypt,” says a source. “The phase included installing barbed wire barriers, cameras and lights.”

The completion of phase two on the part of Hamas is an indication of how keen the movement was to fulfil Egypt’s agreement before the resumption of talks. During a Hamas security delegation visit to Cairo in June it was agreed that the cordon zone should extend to a depth of 100 metres, says Tawfik Abu Naaim, deputy head of Hamas’ internal affairs in Gaza. It was agreed the zone would be a closed military area to facilitate border monitoring and end drug smuggling.

Sources within Hamas said the movement’s political bureau was scheduled to hold its first meeting in Cairo after all its members had converged from different countries. Cairo has neither denied nor confirmed such meeting, commenting that the capital’s main concerns were the files open for discussion with the movement and giving Hamas a fresh opportunity to change the course of its relationship with Egypt.

A source in Cairo said that Hamas holds such meetings on a regular basis. The only difference is that previously they took place in Doha, Qatar. Cairo, however, “knows that Hamas’ new leaders are on the same page. Those leaders, such as Haniyeh and Al-Senwar, are working closely — unlike at the time of Khaled Mashaal.”

“Most of the files up for discussion in Cairo revolve around security. This is why it is important to have security expert Al-Senwar present at the talks to make up for the absence of Ahmed Jabari,” the source added.

As far as the subject of administering the border is concerned, the source stated that, “I don’t think it will remain open permanently as rumoured. But there will be a better mechanism to manage it. On the ground, it is not possible to over-step the Palestinian Authority. Cairo is firm in siding with the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority.”

According to Al-Nounou, inter-Palestinian reconciliation is also high on the talk’s agenda.

In Cairo and Gaza sources believe a new political phase is being ushered in, forced partly by the popular pressure Hamas has faced as living conditions in Gaza deteriorate. They say Hamas now recognises it has to change its attitudes, especially towards Cairo, after exhausting all possible room for manoeuvre. Complications, though, remain, not least the convoluted relationship between Hamas and Fatah, difficulties that are compounded by the emergence of Dahlan as a rival to PA and Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas.

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