Hamas, seeking financial help, pledges anti-ISIS cooperation

Sunday 29/01/2017
Hamas is pledging to tighten control on border with Sinai

Cairo - Hamas is turning to Cairo for help in obtaining es­sential supplies for the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip and end its isolation in return for pledges of tightening control on Gaza’s border with Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and cooperating in its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and other mili­tants.
A high-level Hamas delegation, headed by deputy leader Ismail Haniyeh, visited Cairo on January 22nd, giving Egyptian intelligence officials a list of demands that in­cluded a permanent opening of the Rafah Crossing on the border with Sinai. Hamas also called for reacti­vating trade channels with Egypt and for Cairo to end a blockade of Gaza, which Hamas controls, said Youssef Rezqa, a senior Hamas offi­cial.
“In return, Hamas pledged to tighten control on the border with Sinai,” he added. “Hamas views its relations with Cairo very highly, which is why it will do everything in its power to tighten control on the border and prevent possible infiltra­tions.”
Cairo has accused Hamas of not doing enough to control Gaza’s Sinai border, allowing Islamic State (ISIS) fighters to enter the territory and receive medical treatment there and turning a blind eye to smuggling of arms and explosives to Sinai mili­tants.
Relations between Egypt and Ha­mas, an ideological offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, deteriorated after the Egyptian Army moved to oust Muhammad Morsi, a long-time Brotherhood member, from the Egyptian presidency in July 2013.
Rezqa said an improvement in re­lations between Hamas and Egypt would not come at the cost of any of Hamas’s other allies.
Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar told the pro-Hamas news site Alray that an agreement had been reached for tightening control of the border. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry did not comment on the matter.
Analysts said improved ties with Cairo can only benefit Hamas’s in­terests.
“Living conditions in Gaza have grossly deteriorated because of the imposed Israeli siege on one hand and the closure of the Rafah Cross­ing on the border with Egypt on the other,” said Mustafa al-Sawaf, a po­litical analyst from Gaza. “A thaw in relations will partially improve the situation in Gaza, in case Egyptian authorities open the border point and allow basic supplies to cross into the strip.”
In his talks with intelligence offi­cials, Haniyeh called for permanent­ly opening the crossing and reacti­vating trade cooperation with Cairo, Rezqa said.
Even before its leaders travelled to Cairo, Hamas showed signs of goodwill by clamping down on ISIS operatives in Gaza, media reports said. ISIS Sinai retaliated by hin­dering the smuggling of supplies to Gaza from Egypt through under­ground tunnels.
ISIS threatened to assassinate Haniyeh if he did not stop the crack­down on its members, Israeli media reported. Haniyeh was to return to Gaza from Qatar earlier in January to prepare for Hamas elections in Feb­ruary but changed his plans because of fears for his personal safety, the Israeli reports said.
Egyptian analysts said Hamas is short of options and must mend ties with Cairo.
“Traditional Hamas sponsors Iran, Turkey and Qatar are busy fighting their own wars,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “This is why Cairo is Ha­mas’s only option for support now.”
Other analysts said there were limits to what Hamas can offer Cairo. Hamas today, they said, suf­fers internal rifts and deep financial problems, making it much weaker than it was previously.
A clampdown by Egyptian author­ities on smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Sinai has deprived Hamas of an important source of income, analysts said. Egypt’s crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood funding chan­nels also hurt Hamas, they said.
Hamas must, analysts said, walk a fine line between helping Egypt fight ISIS and not antagonising ISIS-backing movements inside Gaza, including jihadist Salafis who can destabilise Hamas’s rule.
“This means that this movement does not have a lot to offer Egypt,” said Egyptian analyst Abdel Monem Halawa. “The other thing is that Egypt does not trust Hamas, which made many pledges in the past to better control its border with Sinai but failed to honour any of these pledges.”