Reports in the Palestinian and Arab media claim that former Prime Minister Tony Blair has met twice in the past few weeks with Hamas’s political chief Khaled Mashaal to discuss a possible long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Although Israel and Hamas agreed terms to end the fighting of last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, there is no long-term arrangement between the two sides to ensure quiet in Gaza and the surrounding Israeli communities. A tense calm has largely prevailed during the past year, although rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel on at least six occasions during the past two months, including a Grad rocket near Ashdod.
The report, which was relayed on Huffington Post’s Arabic site, claims that Blair and Mashaal have met in Qatar’s capital Doha, where Mashaal is based. Apparently, the arrangement under discussion would involve Israel removing restrictions on goods entering Gaza, which are designed to prevent Hamas from rearming. However, Hamas is thought to be restocking its arsenal of rockets and a Hamas operative recently apprehended by Israeli forces revealed that attack tunnels are being constructed to launch fresh attacks on Israel. He added that goods entering Gaza with Israeli permission are being utilized in this effort.
Blair, who previously served as The Quartet’s (US, EU, UN and Russia) Middle East envoy has reportedly consulted with Israeli, Egyptian and Jordanian officials over his discussions with Mashaal. It was also reported yesterday that senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy Isaac Molcho, recently met with Egyptian counterparts in Cairo.
Meanwhile, Hamas claimed yesterday that it had learnt how to operate an Israeli drone. Al-Aqsa TV said that the Skylark 1 drone was captured last month and that a special Hamas team deconstructed the drone, put it back together and operated it successfully. The IDF said that it was unaware that any unmanned vehicle was unaccounted for.