President of Egypt Abdul-Fattah El-Sisi, even before taking the oath of office Sunday June 8, became the first regime head to strike out at the Palestinian unity government installed in Ramallah on June 24, by intensifying the siege on its Gaza partner, Hamas. His steps threaten to stir up strife between the two newly reconciled Palestinian partners over who calls the shots in the Gaza Strip, debkafile’s Middle East sources report.
El-Sisi acted expeditiously to refute the claims by Palestinian Authority sources in Ramallah and Hamas officials in Gaza City that he would open the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egyptian Sinai as soon as the new Palestinian government was in place, as a gesture of support.
The answer they received from from Cairo to their request was that the border terminals would remain open only if PA security forces from Ramallah assumed control of the borders and officiated at the crossings.
But Hamas has no intention of handing this strategic resource over to Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah. A standoff has therefore developed between the two partners, souring the amity they have strived to display. Any PA bid to take over control of the Gaza crossings would be forcibly resisted by Hamas, a clash that could spell the end of their reconciliation and power-sharing deal.
Not only has Cairo kept the Rafah crossing shut, it has beefed up military oversight on its borders with Gaza to prevent incursions at any point. A law has been drafted moreover by the Egyptian authorities setting out long prison sentences for anyone attempting to “prepare, dig or use” a tunnel connecting Egypt to a foreign “entity” or nation (i.e. Hamas or the Palestinian government) for the passage of goods or persons.
By these actions, Egypt has begun tightening its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Friday, June 6, Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned the incoming Egyptian president to congratulate him on winning the national election. Both Israeli and Egyptian officials declined to comment on the supposition that Cairo’s steps for sealing the Gaza borders and taken inside the enclave had been coordinated with Israel.
The former Egyptian general only stated pointedly that new opportunities had opened up for strengthening the peace pact with Israel. He did not elaborate on this. But debkafile’s sources reveal that Israel has contracted to supply Egypt with 4.5 billion cubic meters of gas annually from its Tamar offshore field, to meet the economy’s desperate shortage of energy. Israel, which already sells gas to Jordan, will shortly become Egypt’s biggest gas supplier.
Our sources add that El-Sisi’s clampdown on Hamas ties in with the heavy Egyptian military deployment on its western border with Libya, and his determination to put a stop to the flow of smuggled weapons to the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip into the hands of Islamist terrorists.
Cairo recently received an intelligence tip-off that a number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders on the run had set up base in the Gaza Strip to engineer terrorist attacks on the Egyptian army, especially in Cairo and the Suez coastal cities.
Cairo is meting out harsh treatment not only to Hamas, but also to the pro-Iranian Palestinian Jihad Islami. Egyptian military intelligence made it clear to these extremists that, since their military wing now rivals Hamas’s militia, the Ezz a-Din Al-Qassam, its leader Mohammed Al-Hindi, a personal enemy of El-Sisi, must go.
If not, Cairo will bar its members' travel between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, thereby cutting them off from their ties to Iran and the Arab world. This week, Jhad Islami knuckled under and replaced Al-Hindi with a new Gaza leader, Nafez Assam.
Mahmoud Abbas will try, when he visits Cairo next Tuesday to attend El-Sisi’s inauguration as president, to obtain clear answers about his intentions. If Egypt mainains its current restrictions on the Gaza Strip and Hamas into the future, the Palestinians will be unable to hold the elections for president and parliament that are scheduled for Jan. 2, 2015 in the two territories. This will place the survival of the power-sharing government in Ramallah in grave doubt.