Middle East

Ismail Haniyeh said planning trip to Iran, Lebanon as Cairo negotiations stall

Hamas chief says war foils Israel’s attempts at Arab coexistence, normalization


Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh intends to visit Iran and Lebanon for meetings with senior Iranian and Hezbollah leaders, according to a Friday report.

Haniyeh, currently in the Egyptian capital Cairo, has begun arrangements for visits to Iran and Lebanon to meet with top officials following the military hostilities in May between his Gaza-ruling terror group and Israel, the Hezbollah-linked Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper reported.

In Iran, Haniyeh is planning to meet Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and senior officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the report said. While in Lebanon, Haniyeh is expected to meet with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Haniyeh has been in Cairo since last week for negotiations on a long-term truce and a potential prisoner exchange with Israel.

Last Monday, Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar said the group is ready for “immediate negotiations” to reach a prisoner exchange. However, such talks have apparently stalled amid the political uncertainty in Israel.

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Clockwise from top left: Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. (Flash 90/Times of Israel)

Hamas is holding two Israeli civilians captive — Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu — as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Israel and Hamas concluded 11 days of fighting last month, during which the terror group launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and towns, and Israel launched hundreds of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials have said Israel will not permit the full reconstruction of Gaza or the entry of non-humanitarian goods until the terror group releases the two Israeli civilians and the two soldiers’ bodies. Hamas has consistently rejected linking rebuilding efforts in Gaza to a deal with Israel on the captives following the recent hostilities.

Meanwhile, Egypt last week sent an aid convoy to neighboring Gaza with bulldozers, trucks and cranes to “prepare the ground for reconstruction” of the Palestinian enclave, devastated by the recent round of fighting. President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has also pledged $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in densely populated Gaza, home to some two million people.

Palestinian boys cycle past a convoy of bulldozers provided by Egypt arriving at the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Palestinian Gaza Strip enclave on June 4, 2021 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Qatar is also continuing financial help in the Gaza Strip as a key backer of the terror group. With Israel’s approval, Qatar has in recent years distributed hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to enable Gaza’s Hamas rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, pay civil servants, and provide aid to tens of thousands of impoverished families.

A senior Hamas official in January said Qatar would be providing $30 million every month, meant for poor families in the Gaza Strip.

Sources in Hamas told Lebanese media last week that if Israel does not allow the passage of Qatari funds to Gaza, Hamas will escalate the situation on the border. The threat came after reports emerged of Israeli plans to transfer the funds via the United Nations or the Palestinian Authority, to prevent it going directly to the terror group.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech regarding the coronavirus pandemic, at PA headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 5, 2020.

It was unclear if the PA, which is facing internal backlash after parliamentary elections planned for May were canceled, would agree to such a move. Some 3,000 Palestinians have signed a petition calling on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resign for turning the West Bank-based government into a “dictatorship,” the Haaretz daily reported on Friday.

In Gaza, no rockets have been fired at Israel since an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire came into effect on May 21. However, on Thursday night the military said it arrested a Palestinian who crossed from the coastal enclave into southern Israel while armed with an improvised bomb, a grenade, and two knives.

“We’ll pay heed to the security reality in the south,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said at an event Friday. “What was is not what will be and if we need to bring back to reality those who have lost connection with reality, we’ll also deal with that.”

While the ceasefire halted the fighting between Israel and Hamas, the truce remains tenuous. None of the underlying issues Hamas used as its rationale for attacking Israel have been resolved.

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