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Egypt profile rises as intelligence chief headed to occupied territories

Image credits: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during his meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt February 18, 2021. The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

Egypt's work to broker and secure a truce in the Gaza Strip this month has thrust it into the diplomatic spotlight, prompting top-level reengagement from Washington and overshadowing moves by several Arab states to normalise ties with Israel.

The efforts have earned Cairo recognition at a time when it was struggling to strike a rapport with U.S. President Joe Biden's administration amid differences on human rights, and to make progress on its top foreign policy goal - a deal to regulate an Ethiopian dam that Egypt sees as a major threat to its supplies of Nile water.

While Cairo has mediated during previous rounds of violence between Israel and the Palestinians through its ties with both sides, analysts and diplomats say its efforts have been more visible than in recent years.

As the week-old ceasefire took hold between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist faction that controls Gaza, Egyptian security delegations shuttled between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian territories.

Next week, Palestinian figures including Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh are due to start visits to Cairo to further shore up the truce, Egyptian security sources said.

"There is a more active effort by Egypt and President (Abdel Fattah al-) Sisi. It was clear throughout the 11 days of war," a Hamas official told Reuters.

Though Hamas has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed and subject to a severe crackdown in Egypt, Cairo has well-established intelligence ties with the group.

Because of the importance Egypt attaches to security on the border between its Sinai Peninsula and Gaza, it is "super pragmatic" about its dealings with the Palestinian faction, said one diplomat.

In related developments Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel was expected in the occupied Palestinian territories Sunday, a Palestinian minister said, after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ended a flare-up of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s rulers Hamas.

Kamel was set to meet with Palestinian leadership, Palestinian civil affairs minister Hussein Al-Sheikh said on Twitter, following the truce on May 21 that ended 11 days of deadly exchange of fire between Israel and armed Palestinian groups that ravaged the besieged coastal enclave.

“Abbas Kamel arrives today in Palestine to consult with the Palestinian leadership on the latest developments after the recent aggression and its repercussions,” Sheikh said on Twitter.

He would also “discuss what Jerusalem and its sanctities are exposed to, and the Gaza reconstruction, and the Palestinian national dialogue,” Sheikh added.

Israeli public radio reported that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi was headed to Cairo, and that Kamel was traveling to Israel.

Egypt’s foreign ministry confirmed Israel’s top diplomat was visiting Cairo.

Palestinians have been politically divided between Hamas and its rival Fatah, but analysts say the latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has served to unite the geographically fragmented Palestinian community in a way not seen in years.

The flare-up was the result of increased tensions in Jerusalem, including over Israeli security forces cracking down on Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has pledged $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in the densely populated Gaza Strip, which was pummeled by Israeli air strikes.

Israeli strikes on the enclave killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, the Gaza health ministry says.

Rockets and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, medics say.

Sources: Nasdaq, Arab News

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