Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat – Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that heated arguments are currently taking place within the Hamas leadership over its stand on the future of the Egyptian role in mediating between it and Israel for reaching a prisoners’ swap deal under which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would be released in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian detainees.
An informed source in the movement said the prevailing impression among a number of leading bodies in it is that the regime in Egypt is not exerting any real effort to push for concluding the deal with Israel since the achievement of such a deal would strengthen the movement’s position in the Gaza Strip. It added that the ruling regime in Egypt is dealing with Hamas only on the basis that it is an extension of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and is therefore not keen to help any step that adds to the movement’s achievements. The source pointed out that the assessments prepared by the movement’s delegations, which visited Cairo recently, stress that Egypt is not exerting any effort to persuade the Israeli side to accept the Palestinian conditions for concluding the deal and that the Egyptian officials sometimes exert heavy pressure on the Hamas leaders to accept the Israeli stand on the deal.
The source went on to say that some circles in the movement are demanding handing the mediation dossier over to a European party, specifically the German mediator between Israel and Hezbollah who succeeded in achieving several deals between the two sides. It noted that circles in the movement are also demanding that direct negotiations with Israel to conclude the deal should not be ruled out but it added that despite these arguments, the movement’s most prominent leaders are still insisting on entrusting the mediation dossier to Cairo, despite having the same observations about it, due to the special relationship between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and in the hope of a change in the official Egyptian approach toward Hamas. On his part, Fawzi Barhum, the movement’s official spokesman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Hamas holds Israel, not Egypt, responsible for the failure to reach an agreement to exchange prisoners and is not looking for a mediator other than Egypt.”
In reply to a question about the alleged argument over the Egyptian role, Barhum said: “We cannot comment on what sources here and there say.” However, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP] rejected the idea of sending Arab forces to the Gaza Strip to train the Palestinian security forces there, saying the presence of an Arab force in the Strip “needs Israeli and American approval and the Palestinians do not want Israel and the United States to interfere in the internal Palestinian affairs.”
Abdul-Rahim Malluh, the PFLP’s deputy secretary general and head of its delegation to the Cairo dialogue, said in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat: “We raised the issue of the Arab forces during the talks we held last night with Minister Omar Suleiman (Egyptian intelligence director) and proposed that the issue should be solved by the Palestinians by activating the role of the National Security Council and bringing the Arab expertise and capabilities which we believe are suitable for training the Palestinian security cadres.”