Saturday, July 8, 2017

Hamas and Egypt appear to improve relations after meeting

After a series of meetings between Hamas and senior Egyptian officials in Cairo relations between Egypt and the Islamist Palestinian group appear to be improving.

The improved relations may have important implications for Gaza and Palestinian politics. Ismail Haniyeh who recently became leader of Hamas said in a speech in Gaza on Wednesday that relations with Egypt which borders the strip to the south have been warming:"We have launched a new chapter with Egypt and the relations have witnessed a big move."
For most of the last ten years Egypt has supported Israel in enforcing a blockade of the strip by land, sea, and air. Hamas seized the Gaza strip in 2007 and has controlled it ever since. Just recently Israel has made the situation in Gaza even worse cutting off electricity to Gaza leaving it with only about four hours a day with power. The cuts hit hospitals and water treatment plants during a heat wave causing hardships for Gaza's two million people. Sanctions against Gaza are part of an attempt by the rival Fatah Palestinians to force Hamas to give up power and join a unified government.
In order to keep popular support Hamas is attempting to mend its relations with Egypt. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood regarded as a terrorist group in Egypt and so trying to improve ties with Egypt is an uphill battle. Nevertheless, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas's newly appointed leader in Gaza met Egyptian officials including the chief of intelligence last month.
These meetings are thought to have been arranged by Mohammed Dahlan, who was a senior Fatah official originally from Gaza but now a staunch opponent of Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority President and leader of Fatah. Haniyeh claimed that Egypt had been helping to improve conditions in Gaza and has alleviated some of the hardships caused by the Israeli blockade. Haniyeh said: "We have found complete readiness by Egypt and their authorities have issued orders to implement a package of measures that has began with allowing fuel into Gaza." Haniyeh also thanked both Qatar and Saudi Arabia for financial support.
Dahlan spends much of his time in the UAE and has close relations to Egypt. He is emerging as a power broker in the region. Analysts claim that the developing ties between Hamas and Egypt are a challenge to the power of Abbas. The development may cause alarm in Israel and even the US and the EU all of whom regard Hamas as a terrorist group and do not want its influence to increase in the region.
Hamas has helped Egypt address security concerns by clearing land on its side of the border that created a buffer zone that has watchtowers, cameras, and barbed-wire fences. Gaza Tawfiq Naeen the head of security services in Gaza appointed by Hamas said: "These measures serve as a message of assurance to the Egyptian side." Hamas would like to see the one crossing into Egypt at Rafah kept open longer and to increase energy supplies and other imports.
Egypt would like to obtain intelligence on radicals who are entering and leaving Gaza and also help with tracking Islamic State (IS) militants who are attacking Egyptian troops in northern Sinai. In a sign that Abbas, now 82,, worries about these developments he is scheduled to meet with Egyptian president el-Sisi this week. According to Akram Attallah, an independent analyst in Gaza this is the first cooperation between Hamas and Egypt since Hamas was founded 30 years ago.
Dahlan has been active in fostering the new relationship of Hamas with Egypt. Abbas expelled Dahlan from Fatah back in 2012. Attallah said: "Dahlan employed this moment to present himself as the most efficient party in the Palestinian arena and a savior for Hamas." Analysts are watching to see what will happen to Hamas' relations with Qatar that in the last few years has spent more than $500 million improving infrastructure and health services in Gaza. It is possible that Egypt may demand breaking off relations with Qatar as a condition of improving relations with it.
In his speech, Haniyeh did not depart from the strident critical tone of his predecessor, Khaled Mashalal towards Israel. He railed against "Israeli violations" in Jerusalem and promised to free Palestinians in Israeli jails. He said not one inch of Palestinian land should be relinquished:“We will remain faithful to the principles of the Palestinian people, and at the forefront is the liberation of the land, of Jerusalem, of the al-Aqsa Mosque, the prisoners, the realization of the Palestinian right of return, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.” Haniyeh had nothing positive to say about Donald Trump: “We believe that the most dangerous thing official Palestinian policy suffers from is responding to and dealing with repeated American dictates.. since the arrival of the American president to power, with the pressure and encouragement of the Zionist enemy, Trump has been trying to “eliminate the Palestinian issue” by “blackmailing” Arab-Islamic powers “and imposing a so-called historic reconciliation.” Not surprisingly, Haniyeh also gave thanks to and praised its backers including Iran, Turkey and Qatar. However, he also emphasized his thanks to Egypt.
Egypt has been sending millions of liters of diesel fuel to Gaza to keep the Strip's only power plant can begin operation again after months of being shut down. Israel cut off power to Gaza after Abbas' Palestinian Authority stopped covering 35 percent of the cost of the Israeli-supplied electricity. There are reports that Dahlan and Hamas have agreed to a new "management committee" in Gaza which would see Dahlan share control in the enclave. However Haniyeh still spoke of reconciliation between Fatah in Ramallah and Gaza claiming that such reconciliation was one of the subjects of discussion with Egypt. Haniyeh said that Egypt was welcome to play a central role in such reconciliation. Haniyeh claimed: “Fatah won’t eliminate Hamas and Hamas won’t eliminate Fatah,” said Haniyeh, adding that together, with all the Palestinian factions united, “the occupier could be eliminated.”

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