Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said an end to Israel’s decade-long blockade of Gaza was “around the corner” as talk of a possible truce deal intensifies.
Indirect negotiations between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel brokered by Egyptian and UN officials have reportedly included discussion on easing the blockade, but by no means a complete lifting of it.
Speaking to thousands of Palestinians during prayers for the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday on Tuesday, Haniya, head of Hamas’ political bureau, did not directly address the possibility of a truce, mooted in Israeli and Palestinian media for weeks.
“Thanks to these marches and resistance, we are just around the corner from closing the page on this unjust blockade,” Haniya said. “We are on our way to ending this unjust blockade of Gaza.”
Protests have taken place in Gaza every Friday along Israel’s fence since March 30 against the Israeli blockade and for UN Resolution 194, which defines Palestinians’ right to return to their homes they were expelled from in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel.
The Israeli army has responded to the protests by killing 170 Palestinian demonstrators and wounding more than 18,000.
Two Palestinians were shot dead during protests on Friday. One Israeli soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper.
Haniya said any agreement would come “with a national consensus and an Arab safety net in order to establish the necessary safeguards to implement what is agreed upon”.
He seemed to refer to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ concerns over a truce that does not include his Palestinian Authority, based in the occupied West Bank.
Abbas’ Fatah political party and Hamas have been deeply divided for more than a decade.
Israel accuses Hamas of being behind the protests and encouraging Gazans to attempt to breach the heavily guarded fence.
UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov and Egyptian officials have attempted to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. Israel has launched three bloody military offensives on the Gaza Strip since 2008.
Israeli media have speculated it could involve an easing of Israel’s crippling blockade of Gaza in exchange for calm on the border and the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014.
Israel is also seeking the return of two Israeli citizens believed held by Hamas.
The Gaza border has been notably calmer in recent days as speculation over the indirect negotiations has intensified.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said while visiting a military drill on Tuesday there had been a “dramatic decrease” in incidents on the border.
“We are indeed speaking with the Egyptians, the UN and officials in the international arena,” Lieberman said.
“As far as I’m concerned there’s only one arrangement and that is the reality on the ground,” he said, meaning Israel wants Gaza along Israel’s fence to be calm.
“If you want to reach some sort of general arrangement, the condition is the agreement on the captives and MIAs,” or those who have gone missing, he added.