A Fatah leader Egypt arrested recently for allegedly plotting to blow up the convoys of two delegations visiting the Gaza Strip is suspected of being part of a broader scheme to undermine Egypt's attempts to improve relations between Hamas and Israel.
Fatah leader Zaki al-Sakani was arrested in late March in Cairo and was still in custody as of April 14, according to a post on Sakani’s Facebook page.
Fatah and Hamas are rival Palestinian factions, and the incident could jeopardize Egypt's relations with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) and its president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Sakani is charged with planning future attacks on two convoys that regularly visit Gaza: one belonging to Qatari Ambassador Mohammed al-Emadi and another belonging to an Egyptian delegation that includes the head of Egyptian intelligence Amr Hanafi, senior intelligence official Ayman Badie and Maj. Gen. Ahmed Abdel Khalek. The idea allegedly was to frame Hamas for the attacks.
Al-Monitor attended a closed meeting April 10 between the head of the General Intelligence Service in Gaza, Mohammed Debabesh, and journalists and writers.
“We have documented information whereby the PA is involved in attempts to sabotage the Gaza understandings [with Israel] by spreading chaos in Gaza,” Debabesh said during the meeting.
He told Al-Monitor, “There are parties who have nothing to do with Hamas and who fire rockets into Israel. Their objectives are solely subversive. Some rockets were launched following the conclusion of the [March 31 cease-fire] in a bid to obstruct its implementation."
Debabesh said he had no details about Sakani’s arrest in Egypt "and it has not been coordinated with us.”
Ibrahim Habib, a strategic studies professor at the Palestine Academy for Security Sciences in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The PA is seeking to target the security situation in Gaza, and Egypt obtained security information from Hamas proving this desire. This led Egypt to track down and arrest Palestinian officials in Egypt because it believes their actions deal a blow to its efforts in Gaza and will negatively affect Egypt's relations with the PA even if they don't lead to complete rupture. While Hamas and Egypt have not forged an alliance, they have common temporary interests to preserve border security.”
Egypt has arrested several security officers affiliated with the PA, as well as Fatah members who were in Egypt and confessed that Sakani had a role in planning acts of sabotage in Gaza under the supervision of the General Intelligence Service in Ramallah, the West Bank, according to Egypt's Rassd News Network. Rassd did not mention how many members were arrested besides Sakani.
Sakani and Hamas have an antagonistic history. He has resided in Egypt since October 2016, when Hamas released him from prison after eight years for detonating a bomb that killed five Hamas members in Gaza in 2007.
Palestinian security officials have not officially provided details about Sakani’s recent arrest, but one security source told the Middle East Monitor that Sakani had already smuggled weapons into Gaza from Sinai. When he was arrested, Egyptian security officers seized $50,000 from him, allegedly paid by a top General Intelligence Service official who is close to Abbas, according to the source.
Another anonymous security official in Gaza told Al Jazeera Mubasher April 6 that the individuals who fired rockets into Israel on March 14 were detained and had confessed that Sakani offered $100,000 each to anyone who launched a missile on Tel Aviv, in a bid to thwart Egypt’s efforts to mediate a truce between Hamas and Israel. The official said Hamas handed the documented confessions to the Egyptian delegation that was visiting Gaza, and Cairo arrested the Fatah cadres in Egypt accordingly.
These arrests come as Egypt's influence in the Gaza Strip is increasing by the day, as Egyptian officers and Hamas leaders exchange regular visits. For instance, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh traveled to Egypt in February for 25 days. Also, Egypt concluded humanitarian agreements between Hamas and Israel on March 31, much to Fatah’s dismay. Abbas and the PLO believe all such arrangements should be made through them.
Both the PA and Fatah of late have issued positions against the understandings. Bassam al-Salehi, a PLO Executive Committee member, said April 7 the Egyptian-Palestinian understanding on Gaza should go through the PLO. Mowaffaq Matar, a member of Fatah's Advisory Council, echoed that sentiment the next day, saying Egypt should not bypass Abbas.
Abdallah Abdallah, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, told Al-Monitor, “It's not the Palestinian Authority alone that opposes Gaza’s understandings. There are circles that reject these out of fear of isolating Gaza from the West Bank. I don't have accurate information about Sakani’s arrest, but if it has nothing to do with targeting Egyptian security, then it would be surprising.”
Iyad al-Bazm, Ministry of Interior spokesman in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “As hostile bodies try to sabotage Gaza’s security, internal security forces are working hard to protect Arab and foreign officials visiting Gaza.”
The Gaza understandings are obviously facing great challenges that could hamper their implementation, and Hamas and Egypt need to know how to deal with such challenges.
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