Egyptian intelligence officials returned to the Gaza Strip on Monday for ongoing ceasefire talks between Israel and militant groups in the coastal enclave alongside renewed Palestinian reconciliation discussions, according to a report.
Images published on Twitter showed Gaza-based officials greeting Ahmed Abdelkahliq and Hamam Abu Zeid, two representatives from Egypt’s General Intelligence Services who have been involved in Cairo’s attempts at shuttle diplomacy over the past few months.
According to the Hamas-linked Palestinian Information Center report, the Egyptian delegation entered the strip through the Erez crossing and were expected to meet with leaders of the Palestinian factions to discuss a proposed ceasefire with Israel.
Egyptian officials and UN envoys have for months been engaged in sporadic peace talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as Israel.
Whilst speculation has mounted in recent weeks about the terms of a truce, Arabic media has reported that it would include some element of easing Israel’s restrictions on the movement of goods and people exiting and entering the strip.
Last Friday’s weekly “March of Return” protests that have been held consecutively since March 30 were dubbed as some of the quietest yet. Thousands, as expected, gathered at multiple sites near the frontier but amid ceasefire talks, appeared to largely stayed away from the border fence. Hamas security reportedly prevented protesters from approaching the border too closely.
Previous weeks of protests have been characterized by the launching of molotov cocktails, flaming airborne devices and the burning tires towards Israeli soldiers on the border who have often responded with live fire as well as riot dispersal methods.
At least 214 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in months of protests and clashes along the Gaza border, dozens of which are said to be Hamas members. One Israeli soldier has also been killed since the protests and clashes began.
For the first time, Egyptian delegation officials were present during the protests.
Meanwhile ongoing Egyptian efforts to end the months of Gaza border violence have also hit stumbling blocks over disagreement amongst Palestinian factions and the staunch opposition of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA), which says that any agreement brokered without its consent would legitimize Hamas’ rival administration in Gaza.
On Sunday, the Saudi-owned daily newspaper Al-Hayat reported that Fatah had informed Cairo’s negotiators that they approved of Egypt’s role in reaching a deal between Israel and Hamas after months of vociferous opposition.
However, Ramallah-based Palestinian officials have reiterated that intra-Palestinian reconciliation must precede any possible truce with Israel.
Fatah’s acquiescence followed on from a meeting on Saturday where Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi urged PA President Mahmoud Abbas to accept the conditions of “gradual reconciliation” with Hamas as a way of gaining back control over the strip that was seized by Hamas in 2007.
Sisi, at a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh this weekend, also reaffirmed his desire to push for “calm” in strip, “because there are two million people there.”
As the relationship between Fatah and Hamas has reached an all time low of the past year, Abbas has sought to punish the militant group by acts such as withholding salaries to officials and reducing electricity going into Gaza.