Wed, Nov 07, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Egypt treads carefully as long-standing Gaza broker

AFP, CAIRO

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, left, addresses a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the “Compact with Africa” conference in Berlin on Tuesday last week.

Photo: AFP

A long-standing mediator, Egypt is maneuvering between Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a durable truce to violence that has flared in the Gaza Strip in recent months — but with utmost discretion.

Deadly clashes since protests began along the Gaza border with Israel on March 30 have at times generated fears of a new war between the Jewish state and the strip’s Islamic ruler Hamas, but on Friday last week, the frontier between the blockaded enclave and Israel had one of its calmest Fridays since the protest movement started.

At least 218 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers over the past seven months or so, according to a tally kept by Agence France-Presse.

One Israeli soldier has been shot dead in the violence.

The ongoing diplomatic efforts focus first and foremost on brokering an agreement that would see Hamas snuff out border protests in exchange for Israel softening its crippling decade-long blockade.

Egypt has been central to these moves, and the UN is also involved.

“We are working to ensure that there will never be any kind of armed conflict in the [Gaza] Strip and West Bank,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said on Sunday.

The indirect negotiations have been unfolding in great secrecy, and scant information has filtered out. Egyptian media, including outlets close to the regime, have referred only to Palestinian sources or reports from Israel in their coverage of the talks.

“Egypt is continuing its efforts to achieve a durable calm,” a Hamas source said, asking not to be named. “There have been several meetings with the Hamas leadership and [other Palestinian] factions for this purpose.”

An Egyptian diplomatic source said that Gaza was high on the state’s priority list.

“All Egyptian agencies are mobilized for the issue,” he said, asking not to be named. “The Egyptian authorities don’t release information because the negotiations are ongoing.”

The Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate — rather than its Ministry of Foreign Affairs — is managing the Palestinian file.

“There are obviously diplomatic and political factors, but to their minds [the Egyptians] the situation is a security one,” said Zack Gold, a Middle East analyst at the US-based CNA research center.

Since the Egyptian military toppled former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement in 2013, the north of the Sinai Peninsula — which borders Gaza — has been hit by an Islamic State group insurgency.

In February, Egypt’s military launched an offensive to neutralize the militants in Sinai, but Cairo has for years considered the entire area a security priority.

It has therefore been at the forefront of Gaza diplomacy since 2014, when the latest of three wars between Hamas and Israel were fought in the Palestinian enclave.

Egyptian mediation yielded a ceasefire between Hamas and the Jewish state four years ago, but the fragility of that “status quo” has been tested regularly since then.

Despite Egypt’s long-standing mistrust of Hamas — based on the Palestinian group’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood — Cairo has regularly sent delegations to the Gaza Strip.

However, beyond a ceasefire with Israel, reconciliation between Hamas and rival Palestinian faction Fatah is also essential to the success of Egypt’s intervention, the Egyptian diplomatic source said.

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