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Rapprochement Between Egypt and Hamas

Hamas Begins Clearing Buffer Zone On Border Between Gaza and Egypt

The Islamist Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip has begun clearing a road along its border with Egypt, and says it plans to install surveillance cameras, watchtowers and lights. Hamas said the goal is to enhance security along the border and to prevent drug smuggling and the infiltration of wanted men from Egypt into Gaza.

“We want to prevent any operation to sneak weapons into Egypt from Gaza,” Hazem Qasem, the Hamas spokesman in Gaza told The Media Line. “There is progress in our relationship with our brothers in Egypt, and we reached understandings in terms of supporting the Palestinian case, and they promised that Egypt will have a role in easing the siege on the Strip.”

It is a win-win situation for both Hamas and Egypt. Gaza’s newly elected Prime Minister Yahya Sinwar recently visited Cairo and met with senior Egyptian intelligence officials. Egypt has been battling Islamic State gunmen in Sinai for years, who have used underground tunnels between Gaza and Egypt for weapons supplies.

“This has been in the works for over a year,” Issander el Amrani, the North Africa director of the International Crisis Group told The Media Line. “They were saying that Hamas was providing logistical support or at least looking the other way when wounded jihadists were coming into Gaza. They want to shut that flow down.”

The idea is that in exchange for no longer allowing Islamic State gunmen in Sinai to access Gaza, Egypt will ease Gaza’s electricity crisis. After the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah said it would no longer pay Gaza’s electricity bill, Israel further cut its electricity supplies to Gaza leaving many of the Strip’s 1.9 million residents with just a few hours a day of electricity.

There have also been media reports that the United Arab Emirates will build a desalination plant on the Egyptian side of the border. As part of the deal, Egypt will open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt more often to allow Palestinians from Gaza to enter Egypt.

The rapprochement between Egypt and Gaza comes after years of tensions. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and many in Gaza rejoiced when Muslim Brotherhood head Mohamed Morsi was elected President in 2012. They were equally angry when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi removed Morsi and outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood a year later.

Yet both Egypt and Hamas are under growing pressure. Islamic State gunmen have killed dozens of Egyptian security forces in Sinai over the past year, and Egypt wants their weapons supply cut off. Hamas has a growing rift with Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, who is making it harder for Gazans to get medical treatment in the West Bank or in Israel.

Palestinian newspapers say that Abbas may be planning to try to overthrow Hamas in Gaza. Another scenario would see Israel installing Abbas rival Mohammed Dahlan as the leader in Gaza. In either case, Hamas has an interest in showing it can govern Gaza, and increasing Gaza’s electricity supply would help cement their control.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz is advancing a plan to build an artificial island off Gaza to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The plan calls for the island to be built in the Mediterranean three miles off the coast of Gaza and connected to the strip by a long bridge.

The island, which would itself be 2.5 miles long, would have a port where passengers and cargo could be dropped off and then transported to Gaza itself. It could potentially one day even have an airport. Israel would maintain security control over the area.