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Egypt to lead international effort to ensure quiet on Gaza border

What happened: So far the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is holding, with no violence emanating from Gaza since the ceasefire came into effect early Friday morning.

  • Following the success in arranging the ceasefire, Egypt is leading a regional diplomatic effort to ensure the calm is maintained.
  • On Friday Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. Ashkenazi described it as “important conversation” writing on twitter: “I thanked him for Egypt’s effort and commitment to achieve peace and stability in the area. I emphasised to him that any future arrangement would have to include guarantees regarding security issues and policy principles. Especially restoring peace and stability to the residents of southern Israel, stopping Hamas’ armament and Israel’s commitment to returning Israeli citizens illegally held by the terrorist organisation. We agreed to meet soon and continue to discuss these issues.”
  • According at an Egyptian statement, the minister “stressed the importance of coordinated work between their two countries, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and international partners, both with regard to securing the stability of the situation and resuming communication channels aimed at achieving peace”.
  • Following their call an Egyptian security delegation met with both officials in Israel and the PA in Ramallah.
  • Yesterday Egyptian President Sisi spoke on the phone with Emirati Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, who said the UAE “is ready to work with all parties to maintain the ceasefire and explore new paths to reduce escalation and achieve peace”.
  • Similarly, Jordan’s King Abdullah said Jordan “puts all its diplomatic relations and capabilities at the service of the Palestinian cause” adding, “there is no alternative to a two-state solution to achieve just and comprehensive peace”.
  • On Saturday the UN Security Council called for “the full adherence” to the ceasefire and stressed the immediate need for humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians.
  • In response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated: ”The full responsibility for this escalation lies with the Hamas terrorist organisation, which chose to initiate rocket fire at Israel’s capital of Jerusalem, the areas surrounding the Gaza Strip, and other cities in Israel. It is very unfortunate to see that the Security Council has ignored the launching of over 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilians from populated areas in Gaza. Hamas uses the people of Gaza as a human shield, cynically exploits their suffering, and shoots at border crossings in order to prevent the entry of humanitarian aid, food, medicine and electricity into Gaza from Israel. We expect that the international community condemn and disarm Hamas and ensure Gaza’s rehabilitation while preventing the diversion of funds and weapons to terrorism.”

Context: The return of the Egyptian role is a turnaround after initially being snubbed by the Biden administration. According to US media, President Biden had not spoken to his Egyptian counterpart in the first four months of his presidency.

  • The Washington Post quotes Mustafa Kamel el-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University, who said: “Facing statements about the declining importance of Egypt in Middle East politics, President Sissi has shown that Egypt and he himself are important … he demonstrated to the US that he could be an effective actor on the Middle East scene.”
  • While efforts are underway to maintain the ceasefire, the IDF has made several recommendations to political echelon to ensure long term calm and change the reality:
    • To respond powerfully and disproportionately to any balloon or rocket fired from the Gaza Strip.
    • To take real action to prevent Hamas’s rearmament — similar to Israeli policy in Syria.
    • To sever the connection between Gaza and Jerusalem, (an example was already seen yesterday when Israel allowed Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount for the first time in over a month).
    • To condition the Gaza Strip’s rehabilitation on security quiet. Israel may allow workers from the Gaza Strip to enter Israel and revisit an old plan to build joint industrial zones in the Erez and Karni crossings, which will create jobs for Gaza’s residents.
    • To strengthen the PA. According to Defence Minister Gantz: “The most desirable change in my view is to strengthen the Palestinian Authority as much as possible, and not to let Hamas be the one that sets the agenda.”
    • To demand the return of the MIAs and hostages. (Hamas still holds two Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers since summer 2014.)
  • Another issue being re-examined is the way in which the Qatari aid money is delivered to the Gaza Strip.  Gantz has said that Israel wants to make sure the money going to the Gaza Strip would be used effectively and to guarantee close supervision over the projects the money is earmarked for.

Looking ahead: Defence Minister Gantz will convene a meeting today to discuss the Qatari funds with Prime Minister Netanyahu also expected to look into this issue too.

  • Israel is looking for guarantees from Egypt and the US that international investment will go to rebuild the civilian infrastructure and not be diverted by Hamas to rebuild their military capacity.
  • Adding to the diplomatic momentum, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to visit Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday and Thursday.

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