Egypt’s intervention in the Israel-Gaza truce process was key to preventing war from breaking out in the Gaza Strip last week — despite Hamas’ skepticism of Israel’s commitment to a ceasefire that was subsequently reached, a source close to the Palestinian group says on Saturday.
On November 11, a botched Israeli raid in Gaza killed seven Palestinians and left one Israeli officer dead. Hamas, who lost two commanders in the operation, responded by firing hundreds of rockets into southern Israel, killing one civilian. In turn, Israel bombarded the strip with aircraft and tank fire, killing another seven Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
On Wednesday, a ceasefire agreement was reached. The next day, a General Intelligence Service (GIS) delegation from Egypt, led by officers Ahmed Abdel Khaleq and Hamam Abu Zeid, arrived in Gaza to oversee its implementation. Reported skepticism from Hamas leaders, however, indicates that both the ceasefire and a potential return to previous truce talks are in a precarious state.
According to a source close to Hamas’ leadership, during the meeting with the Egyptian GIS officers on Thursday, Hamas members in attendance — Yahya al-Sinwar, Taher al-Nouno and Khalil al-Hayya — expressed fears of an imminent assassination attempt conducted by Israel, in a potential precursor to more violence.
The source adds that Hamas’ leaders told the GIS delegation that they are “used to Israel backstabbing [Hamas] after every agreement,” stating that they have received information regarding an “Israeli plot to hit a big target in the coming days.” They referenced the assassination of Ahmed al-Jaabari, a high-level Hamas military figure, which kickstarted an 8-day operation in which Israel heavily bombed Gaza in 2012.
“In the meeting, Hamas leaders sent the Israelis a threatening message through the Egyptian delegation,” the source tells Mada Masr. Hamas leaders informed Egypt that, if Israel attempted “any kind of backstabbing,” the group would retaliate violently, intimating that a repeat of the rocket attacks launched by the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, into Ashkelon last week could be expected.
Similar threats by Hamas were also made publicly — in a ceremony held on Friday in honor of Hamas members killed in the botched Israeli raid, Sinwar pulled out a pistol he said belonged to an Israeli soldier and addressed Israel directly: “Do not test us again. The next barrage of rockets will hit Tel Aviv, and there’s no telling how many rockets will fall.”
In Thursday’s meeting, Egyptian officials — who heavily pressured Hamas to declare a ceasefire last week — attempted to reassure Hamas leaders by reiterating Israel’s affirmation to Egypt that parties will return to truce talks if the first few days of the ceasefire remain peaceful.
Cairo, the source says, also assured Hamas’ leaders that Qatari aid money will continue to flow into Gaza, as per the truce agreement reached prior to the latest escalation in violence. Israel will provide Gaza with a 100-megawatt share of power from one of its electricity lines, Egypt confirmed, and will allow an increase of the permitted fishing zone for Gazan fishermen from nine to 20 nautical miles. It will also grant permits for traders to enter Gaza and will allow previously banned materials into the strip. In the past, Israel has prevented the entry of materials necessary for construction, including certain types of wood and cement, as well as some electronic devices.
For weeks, Egypt has been attempting to broker a truce that would partially alleviate Israel’s 11-year blockade on Gaza — which has been in place since Hamas’ takeover of the strip in 2007 — by allowing the entry of more humanitarian aid into the beleaguered territory.
In exchange, the Great March of Return protests, which have taken place along Gaza’s border with Israel on a weekly basis since March 30, would be scaled back. According to Ahmed Abu Ratima, one of the coordinators of the protests, organizers have called for an easing of confrontations along Gaza’s border with Israel. As such, in the protests that followed the initial truce agreement, people were kept 500 meters from the border fence and prevented from firing incendiary balloons.
On the first Friday after the ceasefire was declared, however, the protests resumed, with some Gazans burning tires throughout the course of the demonstrations. Protesters chanted for what they deemed a victory over the Israeli army, saying, “We support the [Palestinian] resistance.”
In recent days, Israel informed Egypt that it considers the marches a threat that must be stopped, a source close to Hamas tells Mada Masr, and that Cairo should warn the Palestinians of Israel’s readiness to use excessive force to curtail the demonstrations.
The Palestinian factions that play a role in mobilizing the marches have reacted differently to attempts to reduce the scope of the protests, with some expressing frustration at the pressure to de-escalate and others exhibiting more willingness to ensure that peace is maintained.
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, at least 220 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 13,000 injured, many of whom have been shot with live ammunition by Israeli snipers, since the protests began.