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Egypt mediators enter Gaza after week of clashes with Israel

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Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Egyptian mediators entered Gaza on Monday seeking to calm tensions after a week of clashes in which Israel has launched military strikes in response to airborne incendiary devices that have ignited wildfires.

Israel has targeted positions of Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Palestinian territory, and which it holds responsible for all cross-border attacks from the coastal enclave.

The delegation from Egypt, which has traditionally played the role of mediator in the restive Palestinian enclave, entered Gaza at around midday (0900 GMT), according to security sources and eyewitnesses who spoke to AFP.

Israeli tanks pounded Hamas targets earlier Monday in what has become a daily response to Palestinian rockets, firebombs that are carried by bunches of balloons into southern Israel, and more recently to clashes on the border.

Israel has said that since August 6, fire-scene investigators have identified 149 blazes in southern Israel caused by incendiary balloons floating across from Gaza.

The army also reported violent protests on Saturday, as "rioters burned tyres, hurled explosive devices and grenades towards the security fence and attempted to approach it".

There were more frontier riots on Sunday, the army said.

- 'Improve terms' of the truce -

Israel has also closed the Kerem Shalom goods crossing to Gaza and shut the strip's fishing zone.

With fuel imports blocked, Gaza's electricity authority announced that more service cuts would be implemented from Monday, adding to frustrations for Gazans who already endure irregular power supply.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008, but an uneasy truce brokered last year by the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar helped curb the violence.

Gaza's economy, devastated by an Israeli-enforced blockade since 2007, is bolstered monthly by millions of dollars in Qatari aid that enters the strip via Israel.

Qatar has yet to announce an extension of the aid past September, fuelling speculation that uncertainty over future funding was driving the unrest.

Political scientist Mukhaimer Abu Saada at Gaza's Al-Azhar University said the Qatari money would likely continue flowing into Gaza.

"Qatar will not give up Gaza, and I think Qatar has informed Hamas of its agreement to pay until the end of the year or for a new year," he told AFP.

"Hamas does not want an escalation," Saada added. "All that is happening is an attempt (by Hamas) to improve the terms of the calm."

- Israel-UAE deal -

The informal truce between Israel and Hamas also includes provisions on developing Gaza's economy and curbing rampant unemployment.

A source familiar with Israel-Hamas affairs, who requested anonymity, told AFP that there "seems to be a block" on these other issues and that Hamas wants to see progress.

Palestinian anger has flared further since Israel and the United Arab Emirates last Thursday agreed to normalise relations, a move many Palestinians saw as a betrayal of their cause by the Gulf country.

Despite anger on the streets of Gaza following the deal's announcement, Saada said Hamas was not looking to make trouble over the pact.

"Hamas knows the agreement could not have happened without the blessing of (UAE allies) Saudi Arabia and Egypt," the professor said.

"And Hamas is not interested in having a strained relationship with the Egyptian-Saudi camp."

Hamas is primarily concerned with economic progress in Gaza right now, he added.

The poverty rate in the strip is above 50 percent, according to the World Bank, and is expected to climb higher because of the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Hamas "will continue to flirt with anyone" who can help Gaza financially and push Israel to ease the blockade, Saada said.

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