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Exclusive: Hamas rules Egypt out as negotiator for a ceasefire

Feeling betrayed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas is considering a unity administration to run Gaza
As Israeli bombs continue to pound Gaza, Hamas rules out Egypt as an honest broker in a future ceasefire

Hamas has decided to rule Egypt out as a negotiator for a ceasefire, a senior source of the Islamic movement told the Middle East Eye.

He said that from now on, Hamas would only consider Turkey and Qatar as potential go-betweens with Israel. The Hamas decision counters international attempts to get ceasefire talks going, as they are primarily routed through Egypt.

The British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that he will discuss a ceasefire with US Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as their French and German counterparts, at the Vienna nuclear talks on Sunday. When Hague raised the issue with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Thursday, the British Foreign Secretary "stressed Britain's strong support for an active Egyptian role". 

Hamas's decision to rule Egypt out of the equation is a major shift in its position, as Egypt has played an important role in all previous truce negotiations between Israel and the movement since 2006. In November 2012, the then Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi played a key role in stopping a week-long assault on Gaza and was praised by the US administration for his actions. This is the agreement that the the Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair is now attempting to restore during a visit to Cairo. 

This time, however, the source said that Hamas decided that Egypt was unable to negotiate a deal after being passed secret messages from Egyptian intermediaries on the eve of the bombardment that Israel would “wipe out” one third of the Gaza Strip. Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi had previously claimed that he would broker a ceasefire. 

This was followed by the announcement by the Egyptian Army that they had blown up 29 tunnels under the country’s border with Gaza. Hamas also noted the unrelenting hostility and triumphalism of the official Egyptian media to the Israeli bombardment. 

Closely allied to that, the senior source revealed that Hamas had decided to harden its conditions for a ceasefire. Instead of calling for an end to the siege, the Islamic movement are now saying they demand the re-opening of both Gaza’s sea port and its much bombed airport.

The decision to raise the bar of ceasefire conditions underlies Hamas’ confidence in being able to weather the storm of Israel’s onslaught as well as its determination never again to rely on the opening of Gaza’s land crossings with Israel and Egypt. The Egyptian crossing at Rafah has been opened a number of times this week , but it is highly selective on whom it lets through. It closes soon after without Hamas being informed.

The source also told the MEE that Hamas is now actively “studying” the option of forming a national unity administration, comprised of all Palestinian factions in Gaza, because the Islamic movement feels betrayed by the statements and actions of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Hamas source stressed no decision had yet been taken.

He said that although Hamas had done its best to keep the unity deal on track, it was unity in name only. The senior source said Abbas was treating the deal as if the government in Gaza was an extension of his own in Ramallah by refusing to pay 50,000 government workers, even though the money had been offered by Qatar.

The unity government in Gaza was moribund, he said, because Israel had refused to let in the unity ministers and was being run by a rump of officials.

But it is the reaction of Abbas and his foreign minister Riyadh al-Maliki to the rockets fired by Hamas that has rubbed salt into this wound.

On Thursday Abbas called on Hamas to stop the rocket fire. Without naming Hamas, but obviously referring to them, he told Palestine TV:” “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?.We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.”

Maliki, the unity government foreign minister went further, defending the Israeli bombardment on Gaza. In comments reported by  Falesteen newspaper in Gaza, which is close to Hamas and Quds Press International Agency, Maliki said Israel had the right to defend itself as long as the response was proportionate

He said: “Israel has the right to defend itself as long as launching rockets continues. The Israeli retaliation should be appropriate and avoid by all means the civilians and not lead to strengthening Hamas."

The Hamas source said no decision had been taken on forming a unity administration because it depended on the response of the other Palestinian factions including Fatah, which in Gaza is divided on Abbas’ behaviour since the unity deal was signed. He said the option to form such an administration would not mean that Gaza would revert to the Hamas government that existed before the deal was signed with Abbas.

The option is being given serious consideration because Abbas is not treating Hamas as a partner. He said that when Israeli forces in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers entered the Palestinians cities in Zone A, which is nominally under the PA’s full control, PA forces did nothing to stop them, and the PA continued to prevent or break up pro-Gazan demonstrations in the West Bank.

Hamas still wants to keep the idea of a unity deal with the West Bank open, but Abbas was actively tearing it up in the way he was behaving.

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