Egyptian and Palestinian officials on Sunday accused Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas of actively escalating the crisis in the Gaza Strip in hopes that it will force rival Palestinian faction Hamas to hand over control of the coastal enclave.
Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by the European Union, the United States, Israel and several other countries, ousted Abbas’s Fatah-led government from Gaza in a military coup in 2007, effectively splitting the Palestinian Authority into two political entities. All efforts made over the past decade to promote a reconciliation between the rival Palestinian factions—the latest brokered by Egypt in late 2017—have failed.
Egyptian intelligence officials said over the weekend that, given Abbas’s efforts to derail Cairo’s attempts to broker a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, compounded by the escalating Gaza border tensions, Egypt was considering ceasing its efforts to mediate an inter-Palestinian reconciliation.
Egyptian and Palestinian officials confirmed to Israel Hayom that most recently, Abbas has foiled an attempt to ship Qatari-funded fuel from Israel to Gaza via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
According to a senior Ramallah official, Abbas rebuked U.N. Middle East envoy Nikolay Mladenov over the attempt and accused him of trying to circumvent the Palestinian leadership by helping Hamas.
Abbas’s office further warned UNRWA officials in Gaza, who were set to receive the Qatari tankers, that it will suspend their wages if they go ahead with the delivery.
Last year, Abbas suspended the P.A.’s payments for the power Gaza receives from Israel, plunging the Strip into a severe energy crisis and leaving Gazans with four to six hours of electricity per day. This, combined with a series of financial sanctions, dilapidated infrastructure and soaring unemployment that has recently crossed 50 percent, has seen the civil unrest in Gaza grow, and with it, security tensions with Israel.
“It looks like he [Abbas] is doing everything in his power to escalate the crisis in Gaza and prevent Hamas from marking any diplomatic achievement,” an Egyptian source said.
A senior Egyptian defense official said that Abbas’s actions have painted Hamas into a corner.
“If Cairo pulls out of the [cease-fire] talks, there is very high chance of another conflict in Gaza,” he warned, adding that Egyptian officials involved in the indirect negotiations were constantly briefing their Israeli counterparts on every development.