by Khaled Abu Toameh
"The Egyptians are strangling the Gaza Strip. They are punishing the entire population of the Gaza Strip by depriving them medicine, food and fuel." — Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for Hamas
As the Egyptian army continues to demolish houses and smuggling tunnels, Fatah leaders in the West Bank are hoping that they will soon be able to return to the Gaza Strip.
At one time, Fatah leaders had hopes that Israel would overthrow Hamas through military force. Now, they are hoping that the new rulers of Egypt will do the job.
Beleaguered Hamas officials claim that the Palestinian Tamarod group is operated and trained by Egypt's General Intelligence Service and Fatah, with the goal of toppling their regime in the Gaza Strip. Hamas security forces have detained several Palestinian activists and journalists as part of an effort to crush the new group.
Seven years after they were expelled by Hamas, the Fatah leaders have good reason to be optimistic regarding their chances of regaining control over the Gaza Strip.
A top Fatah leader this week went so far as declaring that he and his friends would not mind returning to the Gaza Strip "aboard an Egyptian tank."
The ouster of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi and the subsequent Egyptian security crackdown on terror groups in Sinai, as well as the tightening of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, have hurt Hamas so badly that its leaders feel they are in a state of war with the largest Arab country.
Morsi's election as president seemed to end Fatah's dream of returning to the Gaza Strip. While he was in power, Morsi did everything he could to bolster Hamas's standing and assist it in tightening its grip on the Gaza Strip.
Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh were invited, for the first time ever, to meetings in the Egyptian presidential palace, much to the dismay of Fatah leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas.
Morsi also eased travel restrictions along the border with the Gaza Strip, allowing Hamas leaders and members to move freely into Sinai and other Egyptian cities. Morsi also granted Egyptian citizenship to thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, including some top Hamas officials -- a move that further infuriated Fatah.
But now that relations between Hamas and Egypt appear to have hit a new low, Fatah representatives believe that the countdown for the downfall of the Islamist movement has begun.
Not surprisingly, some Hamas officials are talking about a "conspiracy" to bring Fatah back to the Gaza Strip. They are convinced that the new rulers of Egypt, who despise Hamas for being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, are working toward undermining the movement's regime in the Gaza Strip to facilitate Fatah's return.
"The Egyptians are strangling the Gaza Strip," complained Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. "They are punishing the entire population of the Gaza Strip by denying them medicine, food and fuel."
The new Egyptian regime considers Hamas a threat to Egypt's national security -- the reason authorities in Cairo have refrained since the ouster of Morsi from establishing any contact with Hamas representatives.
Last week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy arrived in Ramallah for talks with Abbas on the security situation along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
An Egyptian army watchtower at Rafah, along the Gaza Strip border with Egypt, April 2009. (Photo credit: Marius Arnesen)
During the visit, Palestinian sources said, Fahmy made it clear that Egypt would like to see Abbas's forces return to the Rafah border crossing. Hamas expelled Abbas's forces from the border crossing in the summer of 2007.
Since the ouster of Morsi, the Egyptians have imposed severe restrictions at the border crossing, allowing through only a few dozen Palestinians every day.
The Egyptian minister's visit to Ramallah is seen in the context of Cairo's efforts to undermine Hamas's rule in the Gaza Strip.
Following the visit, these sources said, Abbas expressed deep satisfaction with Egypt's tough policy against Hamas. Later, Abbas told Fatah leaders that Hamas was acting against Egypt's national security by sending its militiamen to Sinai and other parts of Egypt.
Fatah representatives are also encouraged by the emergence of an anti-Hamas group called Tamarod [rebellion]. Over the past two weeks, Tamarod has issued five statements pledging to fight against Hamas's "repressive and suppressive" regime. Inspired by the anti-Morsi Tamarod movement in Egypt, the group has called for a series of protests, as of November 11, against Hamas.
Fatah alone would never be able to return to the Gaza Strip. Unlike Egypt, Fatah does not have an army that would come to the rescue and remove Hamas from power.
But even if Egypt's tough security measures and blockade eventually bring down Hamas, it is not clear if Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will take to the streets to welcome Abbas and Fatah. Hamas, after all, continues to enjoy strong support among the Gaza Strip's population. Moreover, there is good reason to believe that Hamas's powerful armed wing and security apparatus would fight to the last man to stop Fatah from regaining control over their mini Islamist entity.
Khaled Abu Toameh
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