Two Palestinian delegations belonging to the Hamas movement, the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip, arrived in Egypt for an official visit on Monday.
The first delegation is headed by Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Ismail Haniya, while the other is headed by leading Hamas official in exile Khaled Mashal. Both leaders of the Islamist resistance movement have come to Cairo before to meet with Egypt's elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi; however, this will be the first time that both leaders visit Egypt in the same time.
"The delegation coming from Gaza have already crossed the Egyptian borders and are on their way to Cairo to meet with Egypt's prime minister, Hisham Qandil, while Mashal will be meeting in the coming few days with President Morsi. Both delegations will be leaving Egypt on Friday," senior Hamas official Mahmoud El-Zahar told Ahram Online on Monday.
However, there is more to the Hamas leaders' visits to Cairo than simply talks with Egyptian leaders. The movement is set to choose a new chairman for its Political Bureau, the position Mashal currently occupies, before the end of this month, after secretive elections held among its members in the Palestinian territories, in diaspora communities, and inside Israeli prisons.
Both Mashal and Haniya are believed to be key candidates to lead the second highest institution of Hamas, after the Shura Council.
Egyptian sources close to Hamas told Ahram Online that Mashal and Haniya are not in agreement on many political issues, as reflected in the dispute between the different sectors of the movement inside and outside the Palestinian territories.
"These disputes were the reason why Mashal resigned from his post in the politburo earlier this year, saying that he will not run again for its top post. Yet Mashal gave up on his resignation due to the current political situation that the movement faces in Syria, as it will have to move its offices from Damascus to somewhere else," explained the source.
El-Zahar, speaking to Aram Online, undermined the dispute between both camps saying that "it does not represent a real threat with all the organisational and political heritage that the movement has."
The disputes that El-Zahar tries to play down also include those between Hamas and Cairo about suspects wanted by Egypt for investigations into the Rafah border attack in August that left 16 Egyptian army soldiers dead. "We have turned this page already," said El-Zahar. "Now Cairo has all the information they need about the suspects and we were not asked to do more."
There is also a dispute between Gaza and Cairo regarding the tunnels that are used for smuggling goods and people across the border.
Egypt is demanding that all tunnels be destroyed, but, according to El-Zahar: "We need the tunnels."
"The border is 14km long, over which the tunnels are spread. This area is divided into two parts: one where we have full control over the tunnels and in which the tunnels have not yet been destroyed, and the western part which is controlled by Israel; there the tunnels have been destroyed completely."
El-Zahar said that the tunnels will be among the main topics for discussion with the Egyptian government.
"We want Cairo to reconsider its decision. We have full control over the tunnels on our side and not even under ousted president Hosni Mubarak did Egypt think of crippling all the tunnels without providing an alternative," argues El-Zahar.
Hamas, according to its leading member, wants Egypt to open the Rafah border checkpoint to transfer goods and also to establish a free trading zone on the Egyptian side of the borders, an alternative that Egypt has said it will consider.
Palestinian sources estimates the value of tunnel trade to be $2 million a day. Hamas takes 7 per cent of the value of traded goods in taxes.
"This is major revenue for the Hamas government under siege", an Egyptian source told Ahram Online.
"The meeting between Haniya and Qandil was planned earlier to discuss this matter; however Haniya was not able to cross the borders to the Egyptian side for security reasons."