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Improving Egypt-Hamas ties unsettle Palestinian politics

Palestinians gather in front of the gate of Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza during a protest in the southern Gaza Strip. (Reuters)
GAZA: A series of meetings between Hamas and senior officials in Cairo in recent weeks points to improving ties between Egypt and the Palestinian movement, with implications for Gaza, Palestinian politics and the wider region.
For much of the last decade, Egypt has joined Israel in enforcing a land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip, a move to punish Hamas and its armed wing, which seized the territory in 2007 and has controlled it since.
The situation has worsened in the past month as Israel, at the request of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA), has cut electricity to Gaza, leaving it with barely four hours of power a day.
The sanctions are part of a yearslong effort by the PA, led by the rival Fatah party, to force Hamas to relinquish power in Gaza and join a unified government.
Power cuts have hit hospitals and water treatment plants, squeezing Gaza’s two million people amid a draining heat wave.
Sensing the need to act, and worried about losing popular support, Hamas has sought to mend ties with Egypt, which controls their one border crossing and has, under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, been highly wary of ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which El-Sisi ousted from power after mass protests.
Hamas’ newly appointed leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, whose background is with the group’s militant wing, met Egyptian officials, including the intelligence chief, last month.
The meetings in Cairo were believed to have been facilitated by Mohammed Dahlan, 55, a former senior Fatah official who is originally from Gaza and is now a staunch opponent of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah’s leader.
Dahlan, who spends much of his time in the UAE and is close to Egypt, has emerged as a powerbroker in the region, determined to bridge differences between Hamas and Cairo and potentially challenge Abbas for leadership.
In that respect, closer ties between Hamas and Cairo are a serious threat to Abbas, regional analysts said.
Not only because they help to bolster Hamas’ credibility in the region, but because they empower Dahlan and undermine the ability of the PA to cast itself as the dominant political body for Palestinians, they said.

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