Egypt's efforts to curb tensions in Gaza bring hope of Israel prisoner swap deal

Egypt's efforts to curb tensions in Gaza bring hope of Israel prisoner swap deal
Egypt has increased its diplomatic efforts to prevent a military escalation between the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Israeli army in Gaza, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday. 
3 min read
03 August, 2022
Successive Israeli attacks have devastated Gaza (Getty)

Egypt is intensifying diplomatic efforts to end military tensions between the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Israeli army around Gaza, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday. 

The Egyptian push comes after the PIJ threatened to respond to Israel's arrest of one of its leaders, Bassam al-Saadi, at his home in Jenin, occupied West Bank, on Monday night. 

The detention of the official has heightened tensions around Gaza, with roads closed and fears of an all-out war between Israel and the PIJ.

The Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the PIJ, said its fighters were on a heightened state of alert and ready for combat.

"We announce the state of alert and raise the level of readiness, in response to the call of duty in the face of the treacherous aggression that the leader of al-Saadi and his family were subjected to in Jenin," the armed wing said. 

Israeli authorities have kept closed border crossings with Gaza - including commercial and civilian ones - for the second day in a row following the tensions. 

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The Israeli army said the Gaza crossings will remain suspended until further notice "in a bid to protect our citizens from... [potential] Palestinian attacks". 

On Tuesday night, Hamas - which runs the besieged Palestinian enclave and is desperate to avoid another devastating war with Israel - thwarted attempts by PIJ fighters to launch homemade rockets into Israel, a source from the movement said. 

"If we do not respond to the Israeli crimes in the West Bank, the Israeli army will go further in committing more crimes against the Palestinians, not only in the West Bank but also in Gaza," the PIJ source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

The PIJ has so far responded positively to Egyptian overtures for calm, Khalid al-Batsh, a senior leader of the movement told The New Arab.

"Cairo has done great efforts to contain the tension resulting from the arrest of our leader," he said.

"We will keep our promises towards our people that we will not allow the occupation to commit his crimes without punishment." 

Cairo has also intensified talks with Hamas officials about issues related to Gaza, especially regarding reconstruction and the Rafah crossing issue, supervised by Egypt.

There is also talks on a possible prisoner swap with Israel, according to sources close to the Islamist movement. 

On  Wednesday, an Egyptian security and engineer delegation arrived in Gaza, headed by General Intelligence Agency Undersecretary Major General Muhammed Abdeen, to hold meetings with Hamas officials. 

Abdul Latif al-Qanou, a spokesman of Hamas, confirmed that the Egyptian visit relates to reconstruction and economic issues. 

"[It] is primarily specialised in following up the joint files with the Egyptian brothers, especially the reconstruction file and the economic file," he said.

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Gaza-based political observers believe the visit also relates to tensions in Gaza and Hamas' holding of at least two Israelis. 

"I think both Hamas and Israel are involved in a new round of indirect negotiations under Egyptian broker about a new prisoner swap," said Hussam al-Dajani, a Gaza-based analyst.

"Even though Israel announced that it does not believe the narrative issued by al-Qassam (Hamas' armed wing) it will be forced to negotiate its enemy (Hamas) to restore its captured soldiers from Gaza." 

He believes Egypt is the best mediator to ease tensions in Gaza.  

"Hamas captures Israeli soldiers, while Israel arrests thousands of Palestinian prisoners, but Egypt has the main key that would achieve a historical prisoner swap with Israel through providing more facilities for Gaza," he said. 

He believes Egypt will officially announce that the two sides will agree on a partial prisoner swap in the coming months, with elections in Israel due to take place in November.