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Egyptian Mediation Between Hamas, Israel Hitting Obstacles, Risking Renewal of Hostilities
A convoy of bulldozers provided by Egypt arrives at the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on June 4, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images)

Egyptian Mediation Between Hamas, Israel Hitting Obstacles, Risking Renewal of Hostilities

Islamist movement threatens violence over Jerusalem Flag March set for Tuesday

The Egyptian efforts to solidify the cease-fire reached between Israel and Hamas last month after 11 days of fighting have hit a snag, threatening renewed escalation.

Cairo dispatched a delegation led by Abbas Kamel, the director of its General Intelligence Service, to help mediate a long-term truce and initiate plans for Gaza reconstruction. The delegation continued from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Palestinian officials put the cost of reconstruction at upwards of $300 million, with the US promising to help in the rebuilding.

But the inability to reach an agreement on who will control the financial aid and who will supervise reconstruction brought Cairo’s efforts to a standstill.

Dr. Mukhaimer Abu Saada, head of the Department of Political Science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, told The Media Line the cease-fire is “still fragile and the situation is very tense.

“The crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel are still closed for the most part, except for the entry of food; there is no entry of fuel or the Qatari grant,” the professor says.

With Israel’s approval, Qatar since 2018 has delivered millions of dollars in cash to Gaza’s Hamas rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s sole power plant and provide aid to tens of thousands of poverty-stricken families.

Abu Saada adds that the Flag March Jewish groups plan to hold in the Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday will “lead to an increase in tension.”

Eli Nesan, an Israeli political analyst and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told The Media Line that Israel is trying to contain Hamas and stop it from expanding its arsenal.

“The reason for preventing construction materials from entering [the Strip] is that Hamas will use these materials to rebuild the tunnels that were destroyed in the recent battle. As for letting the [Qatari] money enter, it makes no sense for this money to go through Hamas, which takes a large share of it for the purpose of developing and buying missiles,” he says.

Nesan adds that Egyptian efforts to establish a long-term cease-fire are continuing, but “we hear threats from time to time from the leaders of the Hamas movement that negatively affect these efforts. The Flag March doesn’t harm the status of the Haram al-Sharif [the “Noble Sanctuary,” aka the Temple Mount], but Hamas wants an excuse for incitement.”

Hamas calls the Israeli march scheduled for Tuesday the “detonator of an explosion for a new battle to defend Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Its officials urged Palestinians to “mobilize” at Al-Aqsa and the Old City of Jerusalem.

Nesan says these threats by Hamas should not be tolerated.

“For example, Hamas threatens to launch rockets at Israel if the Flags March takes place, that if this happens, we will see another round of military confrontation between the two sides. It is inconceivable that Hamas will dictate its desires and decisions to Israel,” he says.

Abu Saada says Hamas may resort to old tactics to force Israel to accept the Egyptian mediation efforts, such as allowing the renewed launching of incendiary balloons from Gaza toward towns in southern Israel.

“More escalation is unlikely despite the tense situation; I do not think that the situation will so develop and return to the point of armed confrontation.”

Hamas has said that it is open to “indirect and rapid” negotiations with Israel on a prisoner exchange, but the two sides see different paths to reach that elusive agreement.

“The problem is that Israel wants to link the issue of reconstruction to the prisoner exchange file, and Hamas, for its part, is determined to separate this file from the issue of reconstruction,” says Abu Saada.

The stalemate in the negotiations is awkward for the Egyptians, who were tasked by the United States to oversee the process of stabilizing the truce and also lead reconstruction efforts.

“This is embarrassing for the Egyptians. On the one hand, they want to establish the ‘calm,’ and on the other hand, there is Israeli pressure on them to tighten the closure on Gaza. Egypt is now the one managing the rubble-removal issue, and it is an essential party in the reconstruction process,” Abu Saada says.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi pledged $500 million to rebuild the Gaza Strip and significantly upgrade the infrastructure there after much of it was left in ruins from May’s exchanges of Hamas rocket fire and devastating Israeli airstrikes.

For more than a decade, the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave has been subjected to strict Israeli blockade that limits the passage of people and goods, as well as restrictions imposed by Egypt.

US President Joe Biden has promised that Washington will work with the United Nations on delivering humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Gaza, with measures in place against funds being used to arm Hamas, which the West deems a terrorist group.

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