Egyptian delegation to oversee Gaza-Israel de-escalation, monitor March of Return protest camps
 
 
Relatively empty demonstration site during Friday protest in Gaza. Photo by Ahmad Shehada
 

An Egyptian delegation is set to head the weekly Great March of Return protests in Gaza on Friday in order to monitor the implementation of the new Egypt-brokered agreement to de-escalate conflict near the Gaza-Israel border, sources close to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine told Mada Masr on Thursday.

As the marches move into their 32nd week, the Egyptian delegation — consisting of General Intelligence Service (GIS) officers Ahmed Abdel Khaleq and Hamam Abu Zeid — will visit Gaza for the fifth time in two weeks to oversee Hamas’ pledge to quell the protests. The delegation will be stationed at tents used in the popular protests that call for Palestinian’s right of return in the face of continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

Earlier on Thursday, several Palestinian factions met and agreed to downscale protests, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad releasing a joint statement reiterating the decision to contain conflict on the border.

Following escalating hostilities that threatened to push the parties to the brink of war, and in return for Egypt’s pledge to guarantee humanitarian relief, Hamas agreed on October 19 to contain violence in Gaza by preventing protesters from approaching the Israeli side of the fence encircling the strip or releasing incendiary balloons into the air. In exchange, Israel stated it would minimize the use of firepower and allow Qatari aid to cross into Gaza under UN supervision.

While a few violent outbreaks have taken place since Hamas’ agreement to de-escalate, including the killing of three children in an Israeli airstrike, and that of Mohammed Abu Obada, 27, killed by Israeli fire, as well as dozens of injuries in the weekly Monday protest north of Gaza, Hamas and Israel have largely maintained their terms of the agreement.

However, sources close to Hamas previously told Mada Masr that the group has been under mounting fire from Palestinian protesters demonstrating against the recent deaths of Palestinians and continued Israeli occupation. In order for Hamas to defend its side of the agreement, Palestinian factions told the Egyptian delegation that Qatari funds would need to flow more quickly into a beleaguered Gaza, the sources added at the time.

Israel has agreed to allow Qatari money into the strip on the proviso that it is only used for “its stated purpose,” namely to pay salaries of Hamas-contracted administrative employees, Haaretz reported on Wednesday.

Sources told Mada Masr earlier on Wednesday that Israel had expressed fears that the Qatari money intended to pay administrative employee salaries will be directed toward Hamas’ military operation, a concern that the Egyptian delegation communicated to Palestinian factions in a meeting on Tuesday. There are approximately 450-600 Hamas administrative employees also working for the Qassam Brigades, its military wing, all of whom Israel has refused to pay, the source added.

At the beginning of October, GIS officials met with Hamas officials in Cairo to negotiate a simplified version of the ceasefire with Israel that, in August, seemed to be a done deal but sputtered out along with the rest of the negotiations. While the earlier version sought to end violence between Gaza and Israel by reopening border crossings, expanding the Mediterranean fishing zone and rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure, the new deal centered on the entrance of humanitarian aid into the strip funded chiefly by Qatar and under UN supervision, in addition to a potential prisoner swap.

Thursday’s de-escalation agreement, along with Egypt’s initiative to ensure that its terms are heeded through monitoring of the protest camps, also come against the backdrop of weeks of terse negotiations for Palestinian reconciliation between Palestinian factions and Cairo, leading to an apparent breakthrough last week with the Palestinian Authority (PA) nearing a decision to partially lift sanctions on Hamas by overturning a reduction in Hamas-employed public sector workers’ salaries in the Gaza Strip.

The latest framework for reconciliation among Palestinian factions comes in the form of an Egypt-sponsored proposal that was finalized and sent to the PA for review, following talks between Gaza factions and Egyptian officials at the beginning of October, in which the slimmed-down truce agreement was hammered out.

Under the terms of the new deal, the PA would take full control over Gaza’s ministries and administrative departments for the next three months, a source close to the PA told Mada Masr, with Qatar assuming responsibility for funding 50 percent of the salaries of Gaza’s Hamas-employed administrative employees.

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