Egypt exerts heavy pressure on Hamas leaders to halt attacks, refuses to make demands of Israel
 
 
Israeli strike on Al-Aqsa TV headquarters in November 2018 - Courtesy: Palestinian Embassy in Cairo
 

Egypt exerted heavy pressure on Hamas over the last two days to declare a ceasefire with Israel though it refrained from making similar demands of the Israeli side, according to a high-level Egyptian official with knowledge of the situation.

Renewed violence over the past three days following a botched Israeli raid into Gaza threatened to derail a delicate truce deal Egyptian officials have been brokering for weeks.

According to the source, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, a high-level General Intelligence Services (GIS) official called senior Hamas figures late Monday night and told the group in no uncertain terms to ends its attacks, saying that they would not pressure Israel to do the same. In a second call Tuesday morning, the GIS official called for a complete halt of Hamas rocket fire, not just a partial scaling back of the attacks, otherwise it would hold Hamas responsible for the violence.

On Tuesday evening, Palestinian factions reportedly agreed to a ceasefire at Egypt’s request, according to a spokesperson for the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. Meanwhile, officials from the United Nations and Egypt are due to visit Gaza on Wednesday.

In a written statement, Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh said, “The Palestinian resistance is defending its people and itself before the Israeli aggression,” adding that “if the [Israeli] occupation stops its aggression, it’s possible to return to the ceasefire understandings.”

Shortly afterward, Israel’s security cabinet unanimously agreed to a ceasefire after more than six hours of meetings at their military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Yet the truce seems shaky at best: Soon after news broke on Tuesday that a ceasefire agreement had been reached, an Israeli official stated that “Israel reserves its freedom to operate,” according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The Egyptian official tells Mada Masr that the GIS initially rejected a statement drafted by the Foreign Ministry calling on both sides to de-escalate. However, hours after the ceasefire was announced, the Foreign Ministry released a statement calling on Israel to halt all military actions, with no reference to Hamas.

The flare-up came after a botched operation by Israeli special forces deep into Gaza on Sunday night. A firefight broke out when the troops were discovered east of Khan Yunis, a city in the Gaza Strip’s south east, leaving seven Palestinians, including two Hamas commanders, and one senior Israeli officer dead. Israeli airstrikes targeted the area shortly afterward and Hamas responded by firing hundreds of rockets into southern Israel, killing one civilian and wounding 27. Israel then retaliated by bombarding the strip with aircraft and tank fire, killing seven Palestinians and injuring more than two dozen, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The Israeli military has not provided details about the incident, but it has been widely characterized in the media as a botched intelligence-gathering operation. Just hours before the raid, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech in Paris defending Israel’s decision to allow Qatari funds into Gaza to pay the salaries of Hamas-contracted administrative employees.

While Netanyahu said that, “No political solution exists for Gaza, just as there isn’t one with ISIS,” he also claimed that he was “doing everything I can to prevent an unnecessary war.” He added, “first, we aim for calm, then an agreement. We’re not there yet. The decision to go ahead with this process is the right one, I think.” Upon receiving news of the failed operation, Netanyahu cut short his trip and flew back to Israel.

The Qatari funds came as part of weeks-long negotiations brokered by Egypt to ease the crippling 11-year blockade of Gaza and allow more humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave in exchange for a scaling back of the Great March of Return protests along Gaza’s border with Israel that have continued on a weekly basis since March 30. Since the protests began, at least 220 Palestinians have been killed, including 43 children, and nearly 13,000 injured, many of whom were shot with live ammunition by Israeli snipers, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Note: This piece has been updated since it was originally published.

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