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Hamas seeking to mend strained relations with Egypt: Palestinian diplomat

Ahmed Eleiba , Ahram Online , Sunday 27 Mar 2016
File photo of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza (Reuters)

A Hamas delegation returned to Cairo on Sunday following a visit to Qatar's Doha with “positive” responses to Egyptian demands.

The visit to Cairo by officials from Hamas, which has ruled the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip since 2006, comes less than two weeks after Hamas officials held similar talks with their Egyptian counterparts in Cairo.

Hamas is expected to respond on Sunday to Egyptian requests made in earlier talks.

Egypt has stipulated several demands to improve its relations with Hamas, according to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, including a pledge of non-interference by Hamas in Egyptian affairs; cooperation with Cairo on investigations over issues that affect Egyptian security; and stopping extremists and hostile parties from entering or leaving the Strip from Sinai.

The demands also include severing Hamas' ties with the banned Muslim Brotherhood and the prevention of cross-border smuggling activity.

A senior Palestinian diplomat told Ahram Online on condition of anonymity that there have been clear indications of Hamas’ intent to strategically repair its relationship with Egypt, making it a major priority due to pressures the movement has been facing.

"These pressures include accusations of involvement in the assassination of Egypt's top prosecutor, as well as an Egyptian media campaign that has harmed the movement's image in front of the Egyptian public, which is considered one of the most important incubators of the Palestinian issue,” the diplomat said.

He added that Hamas was also feeling “the loss of Egyptian leadership, which differs in importance from any other forms of leadership in terms of its general role in the Palestinian issue.”

The diplomat added that Gaza being on the Sinai border makes it imperative that Hamas presents concessions in its policies regarding Egyptian requests that the border be more tightly controlled, which could come through the stationing of Palestinian Authority presidential guards along the border.

Hamas-Brotherhood relations 

The source said that the movement is also required to cooperate in investigations concerning Egyptian security by interrogating individuals wanted in Egypt and informing Egyptian authorities of the outcomes, or handing over fugitives to Egypt.

Egypt has reportedly also demanded the severing of Hamas' ties with the banned Muslim Brotherhood and the prevention of cross-border smuggling activity.

According to media reports, the Palestinian Islamist movement has removed posters and slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood and its leaders around Gaza streets following the first round of talks with Cairo in an act of reconciliation with Egypt.

"What Hamas did in removing these images is a formality, and Hamas still has a long test ahead of it where it has to overcome many obstacles,” the diplomat said.

“The Jordanian [offshoot of the] Muslim Brotherhood has severed ties with the [Egyptian] mother organisation, so why doesn't Hamas take the same initiative? We have to wait and see their policies following their return to Gaza after their series of regional visits."

Hamas will present its requests to the Egyptian side during the visit, including the opening of the Rafah border crossing, which has been closed most days of the year by Egyptian authorities since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013; a halt of media campaigns against the movement, an end to the Egyptian flooding of cross-border tunnels; and the return of four Hamas members who "disappeared" last year in Sinai.

"We have to wait and see Egypt’s response to the requests by Hamas," he added.

Hamas's regional visits were supposed to include trips to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and Turkey, though a source in Gaza told Ahram Online that the "series of visits did not take place and the delegation will return to Gaza following visits to Cairo and Doha only."

"Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are currently busy, but there are open lines of communication with Hamas,” the Palestinian diplomat said, adding that the same applies to Iran, “where a delegation from Hamas and the Palestinian movement participated in the Islamic republic's celebration of Jerusalem day."

Egyptian observers, however, say that Kuwaiti and Saudi authorities want the Hamas delegation to visit Egypt before heading to the Gulf countries.

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