Hamas building Gaza buffer zone as it seeks better Egypt ties
Gaza's rulers Hamas said they had begun building a new buffer zone along the southern border with Egypt on Wednesday, as the Islamist movement seeks to improve ties with Cairo.
The 100-metre wide "safe area", stretching 12 kilometres along the border between the Palestinian enclave and Egypt, will be equipped with surveillance cameras and military posts, officials said.
"It will be a closed military area and therefore it will be easier to oversee the border and prevent smuggling of drugs and infiltrators," Deputy Interior Minister Tawfiq Abu Naim told journalists.
Bulldozers were expected to demolish a series of homes and structures along the border.
Islamists Hamas have had strained relations with Egypt since the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood president, in 2013. The current Egyptian government led by former military leader Abdul Fatah al-Sisi has closed hundreds of smuggling tunnels along the border and accused Hamas of supporting Islamist radicals inside Egypt, including near the frontier.
Cairo also all but closed off the border between Egypt and Gaza, adding to the isolation of the impoverished territory under blockade by Israel for a decade. In recent months though, relations between Gaza and Cairo have somewhat thawed.
Last week, Egypt began delivering a million litres of fuel to Gaza, temporarily easing a power crisis that has left the Palestinian enclave's two million residents with only a few hours of electricity per day. The deliveries came two days after Israel started to reduce the electricity it supplies to Gaza, following Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' decision to stop paying for it amid a dispute with Hamas.
A delegation of Hamas leaders, led by its Gaza head Yahya Sinwar, also recently met with Egyptian officials in Cairo, discussing the border and security, as well as humanitarian suffering in the strip.
"These measures come in the context of the productive recent visit of the security delegation to Egypt and the understandings reached in this context," Abu Naim said.
He said Hamas wanted to assure Cairo "that Egypt's national security is Palestine's national security."
A Hamas official told journalists that during the Cairo talks the two sides had reached an understanding to reopen the Rafah border crossing in September. In April 2016 Hamas set up dozens of new border posts in an attempt to improve relations with Egypt.
Hamas, considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union, has ruled Gaza since seizing it from rival Palestinian faction Fatah in a near civil war in 2007. Fatah leader Abbas, the internationally recognised Palestinian leader, has sought to force Hamas to hand back power.
The recent Saudi-led isolation of Qatar, a long-time Hamas supporter, has also threatened Doha's financial backing for Gaza.
Amid those challenges, Hamas has sought better relations with Egypt and is also said to have met with long-time adversary Mohammed Dahlan.
Dahlan was a senior Fatah leader in Gaza until 2007 and fought to stop Hamas' violent takeover, which followed elections the Islamists won. He has since fallen out with Abbas and lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates, where he is considered a potential successor to the 82-year-old Palestinian president. He has received backing from Cairo. During the Cairo talks, Sinwar met with Dahlan, an official close to Dahlan told journalists, saying there were "positive" talks under the auspices of Egypt's head of intelligence Khaled Fawzy.
Naji Shurrab, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza, said the agreements seemed focussed on economics and security.
"They are preparing for the period after Abbas," he said. (AFP)
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