Hamas Building Gaza Buffer Zone As It Seeks Improved Egypt Ties

Gaza’s rulers Hamas said they had begun building a new buffer zone along the southern border with Egypt on Wednesday, as the Islamist movement seeks to improve ties with Cairo.

The 100-metre wide “safe area”, stretching 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) along the border between the Palestinian enclave and Egypt, will be equipped with surveillance cameras and military posts, officials said.

“It will be a closed military area and therefore it will be easier to oversee the border and prevent smuggling of drugs and infiltrators,” Deputy Interior Minister Tawfiq Abu Naim told AFP.

Bulldozers were expected to demolish a series of homes and structures along the border.

Islamists Hamas have had strained relations with Egypt since the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president, in 2013.

The current Egyptian government led by former military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has closed hundreds of smuggling tunnels along the border and accused Hamas of supporting Islamist radicals inside Egypt, including near the border.

Cairo also all but closed off the border between Egypt and Gaza, adding to the isolation of the impoverished territory under blockade by Israel for a decade.

In recent months though, relations between Gaza and Cairo have somewhat thawed.

Last week, Egypt began delivering a million litres of fuel to Gaza, temporarily easing a power crisis that has left the Palestinian enclave’s two million residents with only a few hours of electricity per day.

The deliveries came two days after Israel started to reduce the electricity it supplies to Gaza, following Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s decision to stop paying for it amid a dispute with Hamas.

A delegation of Hamas leaders, led by its Gaza head Yahya Sinwar, also recently met with Egyptian officials in Cairo, discussing the border and security, as well as humanitarian suffering in the strip.

“These measures come in the context of the productive recent visit of the security delegation to Egypt and the understandings reached in this context,” Abu Naim said.

He said Hamas wanted to assure Cairo “that Egypt’s national security is Palestine’s national security.”

In April 2016 Hamas set up dozens of new border posts in an attempt to improve relations with Egypt.

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