Hamas representatives arrived in Cairo on Sunday as part of a cross-faction Palestinian delegation for talks on the situation in the Gaza Strip.
United States Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East Tony Blair were also both expected to travel to Cairo on Saturday in attempts to secure a ceasefire between Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip and Israel, according to state media.
Egypt issued an invitation to the Palestinians and Israelis as part of a US and United Nations sponsored 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire deal. The pause lasted less than three hours before the fighting resumed, despite this Egypt’s foreign ministry insisted that the invitation to Cairo was still valid.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas assembled a 12 strong delegation to travel to Cairo, including five PA members, five Hamas members and two members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Mohamed Gomaa, an expert on Palestine Affairs from Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, believes the Hamas representatives have come to Cairo very late. The Israeli military operation began on 7 July, which means that the delegation has come on day 28 of fighting.
Gomaa said the delay is owed to a “series of failures and failed attempts inside Hamas”. He said there were disagreements within the group about who would represent it inside Egypt. “The Palestinians have come late. If they had accepted the Egyptian inititative in the first week, we would have come a long way,” Gomaa said.
Relations between Egypt and Hamas have been strained since last summer’s ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in which Hamas has its roots. In March this year an Egyptian court banned the activities of Hamas inside Egypt. Hamas says it was not officially approached to participate in Egypt’s ceasefire agreement, which was proposed on 14 July.
Head of the Hamas political bureau Khaled Meshaal told CNN on Saturday that the group informed US Secretary of State John Kerry, via the Qatari foreign minister Khalid Al-Attiyah, that the presence of Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip as part of a ceasefire is “unacceptable”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed on Saturday that the Israeli operation in Gaza would continue “with full strength in order to complete the goals of the operation”. Netanyahu said the goal is to “restore quiet and security for a lengthy period for Israeli citizens and inflict significant damage on terrorist infrastructure”.
Gomaa believes that Israel is now using time to make political gains by either ending the fighting with a “unilateral ceasefire or a United Nations Security Council decision”. He added that Israel is not at this point concerned with signing a deal with Hamas.
Hamas has stressed that it would not accept a ceasefire that did not include the lifting of the air land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has been enforced by Israel since 2007, with Egypt controlling the southern border.
Al-Attiyah met with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara on Sunday where the pair spoke with Kerry as part of their meeting. Turkey and Qatar are seen to have some influence over Hamas, with Qatar currently playing host to its leadership including Meshaal.
Gomaa said what happens next depends on the Palestinian factions and how much they maintain consensus between them. “If this does not happen, Hamas will get a lesser agreement than that of 2012,” he added.