Prelude to Israeli violence in Great March of Return: Hamas-Egypt meeting fails to bring truce
Source: Hamas accepted European proposal via Egypt to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip but Egypt denied air and sea corridor condition

One day before at least 60 Palestinians were killed and 3,188 injured by the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza, Hamas officials arrived in Cairo for an emergency meeting to discuss a European Union proposal that would have suspended the culmination of the Great March of Return protests in return for a complete lifting of Israel’s debilitating siege on the strip.

The Sunday meeting lasted only two hours, however, and the Hamas delegation left Egypt without making any progress.

The delegation arrived in Cairo in response to an official invitation from Egypt to discuss several issues, including the final Great March of Return protest planned to take place on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba and the inauguration of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem. The meeting was part of a series of visits and calls conducted by several international and regional parties with Hamas and came after a meeting that acting director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) General Abbas Kamel and US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt conducted on May 11, according to Palestinian news websites.

The European proposal

Hamas sources who are well-informed about the latest talks told Mada Masr, speaking on condition of anonymity, that the agenda for the Sunday meeting included discussion of a recent proposal from the European Union, the terms of which would have seen the siege on Gaza completely lifted in exchange for the termination of the Great March of Return protests. The proposal had garnered US, European and Israeli approval.

“Hamas agreed [to the proposal],” one of the sources said. “But it [was] not happy about the unstable security conditions at the Rafah Border Crossing, which prevent the crossing from remaining open at all times. Therefore, Hamas demanded that a sea and air corridor be opened, as a condition for acceptance of the agreement, and [be managed by] joint international committees.”

The condition was rejected by the Egyptians, however.

According to several media reports, the Hamas delegation to Cairo was headed by Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the movement’s political bureau, and included high-ranking Hamas officials Khalil al-Hayya and Rouhi Mushtahi, all of whom met with the GIS acting director.

Mada Masr also received reports that a 10-member European delegation, headed by Tony Blair, visited Doha on May 8 and met with four political leaders from Hamas. The discussions also tackled the European Union proposal, according to a Hamas official with direct knowledge of the meeting.

Senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil refused to comment on the details of the emergency meeting, but he told Mada Masr in a phone call that “several suggestions were submitted to [Hamas,] but none were fully formed.”

According to Bardawil, Hamas draws its strength from the people, and any deal that does not meet the people’s wishes will not be accepted. “Any proposal that serves our cause is welcome,” he said. “We are not keen on bloodshed. Our goal is to liberate our land, extract our rights and for our people to live with freedom and dignity. But proposals that only reproduce or establish suffering will not be accepted.”

As the ceremony to inaugurate the US Embassy in Jerusalem commenced on Monday afternoon, Palestinian government spokesperson Youssef al-Mahmoud demanded an end to the “massacre committed by the Israeli occupation forces […] especially in the southern governorates,” and called for international intervention.

International response

According to a Tuesday statement issued by Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra, the Israeli forces’ assault on protesters killed 62 people and injured 3,188 in the Monday and Tuesday rallies.

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abul Gheit issued a statement on Tuesday condemning Israel’s killing of peaceful Palestinian protesters. Abul Gheit called on the international community to protect the Palestinian people. Mahmoud Afify, the secretary general’s spokesperson, said that the transfer of the US Embassy to occupied Jerusalem had emboldened Israel to use force without consideration.

South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel on Tuesday in protest of the Israeli attack on Gaza. Turkey has requested that the Israeli ambassador leave Ankara, while Belgium and Ireland have also recalled their diplomatic missions to Israel. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Jordan and Algeria have condemned the violence and called for an investigation.  

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement on Tuesday, announcing that the organization had “formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate what it regards as war crimes by the Israel Defense Forces against Palestinian journalists covering protests in Gaza since 30 March.”

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday, condemning “the targeting of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli Occupation Forces,” outlining “Egypt’s categorical rejection of the use of force against peaceful marches demanding legitimate and just rights,” and stressing “its full support for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, especially their right to establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The Gaza Health Ministry released a statement on Monday calling on Egypt to “provide Gaza hospitals with medication and medical supplies, delegate medical teams specialized in vascular and orthopedic surgery, anesthesia and intensive care, and transfer the wounded to specialized hospitals in Egypt [to help cope with] the increasing number of injuries that require complicated surgeries and treatments that are not available in the Gaza Strip.” It also issued an appeal “to the international community, including all humanitarian and aid organizations, and the free people of the world, to urgently supply hospitals with medication.”

The Egypt-Hamas relationship

The Great March of Return protests began on March 30 to commemorate Land Day. Since then, protesters have have been gathering weekly at five locations near the border fence to demand the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the villages, towns and cities from which they were displaced in 1948.

For Palestinian political analyst Akram Attallah, who spoke to Nabaa Press regarding Hamas’s visit to Cairo, Egypt anticipated that instability was on the horizon. “[Hamas’s visit to Egypt] is clearly a response to the visit by US President Donald Trump’s envoy, who works with Israel around the clock and realizes that Egypt is an effective actor and is able to move the crisis [toward a resolution],” Attallah said.

The Israeli news website 0404, which is close to the Israeli military, cited foreign media outlets as reporting that Egypt warned Hamas not to attempt to “obstruct the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.” Egypt’s intelligence service also warned Hamas not to “carry out operations on the day of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem and asserted that, should the situation deteriorate, the Israeli military would respond strongly by bombing the movement’s infrastructure in Gaza.”

Palestinian political analyst Ibrahim al-Madhoun, on the other hand, said that Hamas realized that the people of Gaza had the final say, and that its delegation was entering the talks with that in mind. Hamas, Madhoun argued, wanted to end the siege once and for all. “The [Cairo] visit [was] only to listen to talks. That is a reassuring message,” he told Nabaa Press, referencing Haniyeh’s Sunday speech in the Great March of Return camp in the Deir al-Balah Governorate.

“We will not surrender our arms,” Haniyeh said. “We will develop them. [We demand that] the siege be lifted once and for all. Captured soldiers will only be exchanged for [our] detainees.”

Hamas has received multiple invitations to visit Egypt, all of which were rejected “because what has been offered did not grant revolutionaries the right to return,” Madhoun said.

Since February, three high-level Hamas delegations have arrived in Cairo. The first included Haniyeh as well as high-ranking Hamas officials Fathi Hammad, Mushtahi and Hayya. Several days later, another delegation followed, which was headed by Moussa Abu Marzouk. The third was headed by Saleh al-Arouri.

In September, Hamas announced the dissolution of the committee it has established to run administrative affairs in the Gaza Strip. It also agreed to a general election and invited the Palestinian unity government to take over. These steps were perceived as a success of the Egyptian efforts toward the reconciliation of the Palestinian factions.

In November, Hamas handed control of all three border crossings (Beit Hanoun and Karm Abu Salem that border with the Israeli occupation, and Rafah with Egypt) over to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Hamas had maintained control over the crossings for more than 10 years, since it won the 2006 parliamentary election in Gaza. The handover was one of the obligations in the reconcilation process with the PA.

However, several parties have accused PA President Mahmoud Abbas of stalling the reconciliation and holding the sanctions imposed on Gaza in place.

In the eyes of Hamas, the PA has imposed sanctions on the residents of the Gaza Strip, including limiting and interrupting the power supply, consistently applying cuts to employee salaries and restricting medication supplies to the strip.

As the situation develops, the question remains as to how capable Egypt is in managing negotiations with Hamas in the aftermath of the Great March of Return protests and the US embassy relocation procedures.

Hamza Abu Eltarabesh 

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