Hamas leader confirms deal to 'break Gaza blockade' in progress
Talks for a truce that could dramatically change living conditions in the Gaza Strip are underway, Hamas's leader in the blockaded enclave told journalists on Thursday, but finalising the deal could take some time.
Yahya Sinwar said the group's leadership had decided to take steps to end the more than decade-long blockade of Gaza and that proposals had been exchanged but a final agreement for a truce could take two months to reach.
The indirect talks between Hamas and Israel could mean the opening of crossings out of Gaza and a sea passage to Cyprus in exchange for an end to all attacks from the besieged enclave, Hamas sources have told Middle East Eye.
Sinwar said Palestinians in Gaza could begin seeing the deal's effects on their daily life by mid-October.
Hamas and mediators Egypt were ready for a deal, Sinwar said. However, in reference to the contentious issue of the group's military capabilities, Sinwar said Hamas was not seeking any new conflicts with Israel but would remain prepared for one.
"The resistance will continue to develop its arms for the protection of our people from the repeated Zionist aggression," he said, according to a statement published on Hamas's website.
He said security forces would fall under a "legitimate national authority" under a national unity government that would end hostilities between Hamas and the occupied West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).
Sinwar said discussions to form that government were still underway but talks to end Israel's air, land and sea blockade of Gaza would run parallel and are not dependent on a unity government.
Fatah, the Palestinian faction led by President Mahmoud Abbas that controls the PA, has criticised Hamas's negotiations with Israel, claiming they jeopardise Palestinian reconciliation.
"Hamas is engaging itself in the hostile scheme meant to separate Gaza from the internationally recognised state of Palestine on the 1967 line," Fatah's head of reconciliation negotiations Azzam al-Ahmad told Middle East Eye previously.
Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in October last year, intended to implement another agreement signed six years earlier, but progress in forming a unity government has been limited, especially in terms of changing living conditions in Gaza.
The US has strongly criticised Fatah's reconciliation talks with Hamas, which it officially has no contact with and considers a terrorist organisation, but on Wednesday published a statement calling on the PA to take a more active role in Gaza.
"The Palestinian Authority cannot criticise from the sidelines," said Jason Greenblatt, Donald Trump's chief negotiator. "The people of Gaza, and Israelis in the area around Gaza, have suffered for far too long. It is time for the Palestinian Authority to lead the Palestinian people - all Palestinians - to a better future."
The Palestinian leadership rejected Greenblatt's comments, calling them a "blatant intervention" in Palestinian affairs.
There is an open American attempt to implement the plan called the 'deal of the century' in the Gaza Strip under the guise of humanitarian projects and truce
- Dr. Ahmad Majdalani, PLO leader
"There is an open American attempt to implement the plan called the 'deal of the century' in the Gaza Strip under the guise of humanitarian projects and truce," said Dr Ahmad Majdalani, member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
"They want the Palestinian Authority to to be a cover to pass the deal of the century and this will not happen," Majdalani told MEE.
He also accused UN special envoy Nikolay Mladenov and Qatar of facilitating the purported US goals.
"Mladenov and Qatar are discussing with Israel the establishment of an airport and sea port and other projects in Gaza. This is a violation of the mandate Mladenov got from the secretary-general of the United Nations."
Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Thursday that Abbas was concerned by Hamas's negotiating with Israel without the PA's involvement, but that he was also hesitant to take responsibility for Gaza in case the PA was punished for not preventing attacks by smaller armed groups.
Haaretz also reported leaked comments by US Ambassador David Friedman suggesting that any talks that did not include the PA would be giving "a tremendous prize to Hamas".
Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007 after fighting with Fatah forces that did not recognise the movement's victory in 2006 elections. Egypt has also blockaded Gaza.
Since then the southern Rafah crossing with Egypt has opened rarely, and usually only for short periods, while Palestinians trying to leave Gaza through the single Israeli checkpoint they can pass through have had to rely on a strict permit system mostly used for medical treatment and emergencies.