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The Buffer Zone in Rafah increases estrangement between Hamas and Egypt

January 13, 2015 at 5:14 pm

While Hamas has had faith in the possibility of improving relations with Cairo, the border area between Rafah and Sinai has recently witnessed a number of successive developments on the ground at the hands of the Egyptian army. The buffer zone area on the border between Gaza and Egypt has been expanded to a width of 1 km, which will run along 5 km of the border area. Egypt claims this will allow for better surveillance of the border with the Gaza Strip and will prevent the use of tunnels to transport weapons or for the infiltration of armed militants.

A field trip to the Palestinian-Egyptian border in southern Rafah shows tireless work by the Egyptian army, which is using its military vehicles to demolish more homes and dig large holes all along the border.

It is interesting that Hamas did not comment on the Egyptian decision to expand the buffer zone in an attempt to refrain from fuelling the fire of tension that already exists between Gaza and Cairo. This was also perhaps to keep the peace between the two sides, even though Hamas can be certain that the Egyptian decision does not serve the purpose of improving relations between the two sides but rather works towards igniting them.

Hamas has expressed, by means of several of its spokespeople, that it believes the decision to expand the buffer zone is in conflict with the current relationship between Gaza and Egypt, which is based on communication and interaction. It has also stated that this decision is made in the context of serving regional and international policies against the Palestinian people and will ultimately escalate the suffering in Gaza. These are free services provided by Cairo in exchange for regional interests and to preserve Israel’s security at the expense of our people’s interests and stability in Gaza.

Although Egypt is free to implement whichever policy it sees fit within its own borders, the expansion of the buffer zone is a clear message from Cairo to Gaza that the estrangement will continue with Hamas, that the tension between the two sides still exists and that there is no intention on Egypt’s part to improve its relationship with Hamas in the near future.

The contrast in the reaction by Hamas leaders reflects the existence of different points of view in dealing with Egypt, which Palestinians call their “big sister”. They believe that Egypt has passed the stage of the coup and that regional and international parties are dealing with Egypt as a normal case. In addition to this, Al-Sisi has become a recognised president, especially after the recent reconciliation with Qatar. Some in the Hamas circles read this as a call to deal with the status quo in Egypt and overcome their sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the other hand, others in Hamas believe that the Egyptian decision to expand the buffer zone is an extension of Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza after the most recent war nominally to prevent the Hamas from compensating for the shortages it suffered in weapons, missiles, and ammunition. Therefore they believe they must confront the Egyptian decision and not remain silent in the face of such acts.

In addition to this, the expansion of the buffer zone will have a negative effect on the entry of weapons into Gaza due to the intensive persecution of arms dealers in Sinai by Egyptian security forces. It will also cut off communication between the smuggling networks on either side of Rafah. This will lead to difficulties in delivering the necessary quantity and quality of arms to Gaza. Despite the fact this issue is hit or miss, the latest expansion of the buffer zone will put arms dealers in the face of an unprecedented security challenge, the consequences and results of which they do not know how to deal with.

Although Hamas is trying to reduce the impact of the buffer zone’s expansion on its military capabilities (the resistance has its own qualitative weapons that allow it to do without outside logistic capabilities), but restricting its military capabilities is a reward for Israel. However, the weapons currently possessed by the resistance enable it to thwart any Israeli attack on Gaza.

Hamas’s announcement of this is an effort to raise the morale of the movement’s fighters who are suffering from a decreased flow of arms due to the destruction of tunnels on the Egyptian borders. This drove the Qassam Brigades to begin its campaign of producing self-manufactured weapons in the manufacturing workshops recently, but this does not compensate for the shortage of qualitative weapons the movement cannot manufacture inside Gaza, such as anti-personnel mines and armour.

This means that Egypt’s expansion of the buffer zone will prevent the entry of advanced military technology for the Qassam Brigades, which will certainly drive them to look for local alternatives that can face the technology possessed by the Israeli occupation army. They are also in the process of finding alternatives to the tunnels in order to supply themselves with the necessary arms; but they have not revealed their location or nature.

Finally, Hamas knows that Egypt’s decision to expand the buffer zone is purely political, even if it was declared in the context of military security statements. The magic key to stopping the Egyptian measures on the Gaza border is also political and can be achieved by reaching an understanding between Hamas and the Egyptian government. However, neither side seems ready at the moment to reach such an understanding, which requires both sides to make sacrifices. Until such understandings are achieved, the Gaza’s border with Egypt will remain a source of tension between the two parties.

Translated from Felesteen newspaper, 12 January, 2015

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.