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Is the Palestinian Authority trying to return to Gaza?

By Khaled Abu Toameh
web posted April 22, 2024

The new Palestinian Authority government, headed by Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa, has appealed to some Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Algeria, to support its effort to assume control of the Gaza Strip. Mustafa appealed during meetings and phone calls with leaders and senior officials of these countries after he took over from his predecessor, Mohammad Shtayyeh, earlier this month.

The appeal came amid increased signs that the PA's General Intelligence Service (GIS), headed by Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj, is trying to establish a security presence in some parts of the Gaza Strip. Sources close to Hamas claim that Faraj is working in coordination with Israel, Egypt, and other Arab countries.

Recently, Hamas announced that its men arrested several GIS members who "infiltrated" into the northern Gaza Strip "in coordination" with Israeli security forces. Two GIS agents, activists in the ruling Fatah faction, were reportedly shot dead by Hamas terrorists.

The PA, however, said the men were part of a security detail accompanying humanitarian convoys entering the Gaza Strip through Egypt.

According to Hamas, the PA intelligence officers entered the Gaza Strip disguised as humanitarian aid and relief workers. One of them, Sameeh al-Mashloukh, was severely beaten after being captured by Hamas terrorists. Hamas is still holding him in the coastal enclave.

The GIS men were on a mission to "create a state of chaos and infighting" inside the Gaza Strip, Hamas charged. It is estimated that some 200 agents working for Faraj's security force have already managed to enter the Gaza Strip.

Sources in the Gaza Strip claimed that the GIS was planning to turn the offices of the Palestinian Red Crescent in the Gaza Strip into security branches for recruiting and arming PA loyalists. The sources quoted Hamas operatives as claiming that Faraj and his security force helped Israeli security forces before and during the last IDF raid on al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, during which hundreds of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad members were killed, injured, and arrested.

Hamas and three Palestinian factions – Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Palestinian National Initiative – have announced their opposition to the formation of the new government, saying it was done "without national consensus."

They have further announced their opposition to the creation of a peacekeeping force from several Arab countries to assume security control of the Gaza Strip.

In the past decade, Mustafa has held senior positions in the PA, including deputy prime minister, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund (the PLO's unofficial finance ministry), and economic adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas appointed him prime minister in mid-March as part of a U.S. plan to "revitalize" the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas and the three factions argued that Abbas's "unilateral" decision to appoint Mustafa "would deepen divisions" among the Palestinians. The decision, they added, was "a sign of the gap between the PA leadership and the Palestinian people and their aspirations."

The refusal to accept the new government triggered a new crisis between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Senior PA officials and representatives of the ruling Fatah faction (headed by Abbas) lashed out at Hamas, with some holding it responsible for the catastrophe that has befallen the Gaza Strip since the October 7, 2023 Hamas-led slaughter of Israeli communities.

Mustafa is well aware that his government will not be able to operate in the Gaza Strip in light of Hamas's public stance against it. He also knows that as long as Hamas's military and civilian capabilities are not entirely destroyed, the likelihood of his government replacing the terror group in the Gaza Strip is nil.

In meetings with Western diplomats in Ramallah last week, Mustafa said that his government's top priority was to "enhance the relief and humanitarian effort, provide basic services in the Gaza Strip, move forward with institutional reform, and achieve economic recovery and stability."

Mustafa, however, did not refer to Hamas's claims that it has thwarted an attempt by the PA security forces to return to the Gaza Strip. It is worth noting that, prior to Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the PA had thousands of security officers and civil servants in the Gaza Strip. Most of them continued to receive salaries from the PA after the Hamas "coup" that toppled the PA.

The alleged attempt by PA intelligence officers to operate inside the Gaza Strip has aggravated tensions between the PA and Hamas. It's hard to see how the new PA government, or any Arab peacekeeping force, would manage to function in the Gaza Strip while Hamas maintains multiple battalions and thousands of militiamen, especially in the southern parts of the coastal enclave. ESR

Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning Israeli Arab journalist, lecturer, and documentary filmmaker specializing in Palestinian affairs. A Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he has also worked as a senior producer for NBC in the Middle East and has reported on events in the West Bank and Gaza for several media outlets.


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