Official Palestinian sources have confirmed that Egypt has formally rejected proposals for the establishment of a free trade zone on its border with the Gaza Strip as a means of solving Gaza’s economic problems. The sources state that during Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Cairo last week, he was informed by the Egyptian authorities that their decision was based on the fact that such a move would isolate the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian territories as an independent entity.
The sources also pointed to Egyptian fears that a Gaza Strip made economically independent through the establishment of a free trade zone with Egypt would be exploited by Israel. It would be forcibly annexed to Egypt as a means of solving the demographic problem in the sector, at Egypt’s expense. Gaza would then be used to accommodate Palestinians returning from abroad, such as Palestinians fleeing the Syrian conflict and those returning from Lebanon.
A senior Hamas official has confirmed that the group’s leader, Khaled Mashaal, will not be seeking re-election. Mashaal will, however, remain a member of the Islamist party.
Mashaal, who has led Hamas from various Arab capitals since 1996, told a meeting of senior officials in Cairo last week that he had no desire to remain its chief and that his decision not to run in the election was final, a diplomatic source told the Jerusalem Post earlier Sunday.
“When Mashaal said he was not seeking re-election, a message was sent to him from the movement’s leaders, unanimously asking him to change his mind,” senior Hamas official Salal Bardawil told Ma’an news agency.
The diplomatic source told the Jerusalem Post that Mashaal was tired of policy changes from the group’s leadership.
“Mashaal has grown impatient with some of his Gaza officials who recently tried to undermine decisions he took on behalf of the group,” the source said.
The leader angered Hamas’ leadership earlier this year when he agreed that its main rival, the Fatah movement, could lead any future unity government.
Mashaal has made no public comment on his future leadership or on the Cairo meeting.
The announcement comes after reports earlier this year that Mashaal will not seek re-election.
Khaled Mahaal has been the head of Hamas’s political bureau since 1996, after his predecessor, Mousa Abu Marzook, was arrested in the United States and imprisoned there for two years on suspicion of terrorism.
Mashaal was known as a vocal critic of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, often refusing to follow directives issued by the PA regarding ceasefires with Israel.
In 1997, the Hamas leader became the target of an assassination attempt by the Israeli intelligence service. Mossad agents posing as Canadian tourists injected him with poison on a street in Amman, Jordan. They were later captured by Jordanian authorities. Jordanian King Hussein demanded that Israel hand over the antidote to save Mashaal, who was in a coma. Under growing political pressure and with US President Bill Clinton’s intervention, Israel did so, and its agents were released.
In 1999, Mashaal was expelled from Jordan, with authorities accusing him of illegal activities. He later moved to Damascus, where he stayed until the Syrian civil war intensified, forcing him to move to Qatar.
The date of the election of the next Hamas leader remains secret. Ismail Haniyeh, the group’s leader in the Gaza Strip, and Moussa Abu Marzouk, who headed Hamas in the early 1990s, were the top candidates to replace Mashaal, a source told Reuters.
GAZA CITY – Israeli airstrikes killed two Islamic Jihad militants and three civilians on Monday, bringing the death toll since Friday to 23 people, medics and Ma’an’s correspondent said.
An airstrike on Monday afternoon in Beit Lahiya killed Muhammad al-Hasoumi, 65, and his daughter, 30, medical spokesperson in Gaza Abu Salmiya said.
Earlier, hospital officials said a 15-year-old schoolboy was killed in a separate air strike during the day on Monday. Nayif Shaaban Qarmout was killed in Beit Lahiya, north Gaza, Ma’an’s correspondent said.
Witnesses said that the 15-year-old was playing with friends in a play ground near his school when an Israeli missile hit the area.
Five others were injured and taken to Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
Early Monday, two Islamic Jihad militants, Raafat Abu Eid, 24, and Hamadah Salman Abu Mutlaq, 24, were killed in Khan Younis, Ma’an’s correspondent said. Abu Eid was killed when an airstrike targeted a vehicle he was traveling in.
Two other militants sustained injuries and a female passerby was also injured in the attack.
Abu Mutlaq, 24, was killed near a mosque in a village east of Khan Younis after warplanes fired at him. Three others were injured and taken to hospital for treatment.
Earlier, Israeli airstrikes had hit two homes in the northern Gaza Strip, injuring 33 civilians, most of whom were women and children, Abu Salmiya said.
Most sustained moderate injuries, with one critically injured, and were transferred to hospital.
A 17-year-old girl and another man were also injured as Israeli missiles struck a home in Gaza City, Abu Salmiya said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said aircraft had carried out six strikes on Monday. At least 20 rockets have been fired at Israel on Monday, she said.
The army targeted “a weapons storage facility and four rocket launching sites in the northern Gaza Strip, as well as a rocket launching site in the southern Gaza Strip,” a statement said.
Israel’s army denied, however, that there had been any military activity in the northern Gaza Strip at the time of 15-year-old Nayif Shaaban Qarmout’s death.
Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said late Sunday that neighboring Egypt was working to stop the violence and was consulting with militant factions but added that Israel would have to first stop its air strikes.
The latest round of violence flared on Friday when an Israeli airstrike killed two militant leaders in Gaza.
Israel accused them of planning a cross-border attack via Egypt, although an Egyptian official said Sunday that the Sinai is “fully under control.”
“This is an attempt by Israel to give justification for the offensive against Gaza,” he said.
On Sunday, PLO official Hanan Ashrawi strongly condemned Israel’s latest military escalation.
“The Israeli government has acted with impunity for its unilateral violations for far too long. The illegal, cruel siege of the Gaza Strip, along with all other violations of international law must come to an end.”
The PLO official called on the international community to take serious measures to halt Israel’s policy of extrajudicial executions and the continued killing of innocent civilians.
Reuters contributed to this report
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Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh took part Saturday in Iran’s commemoration of its 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran. After thanking the Islamic Republic for supporting the resistance movements, he assured in a speech he delivered before the millions of participants in the celebrations that Hamas “will never recognize Israel”.
“They want us to recognize the Israeli occupation and cease resistance but, as the representative of the Palestinian people and in the name of all the world’s freedom seekers, I am announcing from Azadi Square in Tehran that we will never recognize Israel,” he said.
Haniyeh further emphasized that resistance and jihad are the strategic choice for this nation and the only path for liberating Al-Quds.
“The resistance will continue until all the Palestinian land, including Al-Quds, is liberated and all the refugees return,” he said.
Indicating that the Iranian people are a partner in the Arab victory against the Zionist entity, the Palestinian prime minister rejected the American and Zionist threats to the Islamic Republic, and the Western interference in the Arab and Islamic region, and stressed the importance of Islamic unity.
“The Islamic Revolution in Iran, the resistance, and the Arab spring assure that this is the period of the people, and that no one could stand against the will of the people,” he added.
Moreover, Haniyeh continued addressing the Iranian people saying: “We come to you, o Muslim people, on this day, to embrace the victories from the blessed land of Palestine to the Islamic revolution in Iran.”