Egypt offers no way out as deaths rise in Gaza from Israeli attacks | ET REALITY


As Israeli warplanes pound Gaza, killing more than 1,400 people and flattening buildings in response to last weekend’s unprecedented Hamas attack, Israel’s leadership has repeatedly urged civilians to flee the territory while they can.

“Out now,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in on Saturday, promising to release the full force of Israel’s army.

But the only viable exit is a border crossing into Egypt, and that country, as always in times of war, keeps it firmly closed.

Egyptians are categorically opposed to allowing Gazans to cross the border for fear that the country will be dragged further into the crisis, even as Israel presses ahead with a punitive siege that is quickly turning into a dire humanitarian crisis.

“Egypt will not allow the Palestinian cause to be resolved at the expense of other parties,” President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said on Tuesday, according to Egyptian state media, echoing long-standing concerns that Israel will somehow try to make the Gaza conflict is resolved. An Egyptian problem too.

Instead, the Egyptians say they will facilitate a humanitarian corridor to bring urgently needed aid to Gaza, where Israel has cut off supplies of food, fuel and water as part of what its defense minister calls a “complete siege.” , a tactic that harms aid and human rights. rights groups have denounced as collective punishment and probably as a war crime.

However, US officials are pushing for civilians to be given safe passage out of Gaza. At a news conference in Israel on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that he had discussed the issue with Israeli officials and that he hoped to continue those talks in the coming days.

A State Department official said the United States was also consulting with Egypt about possible safe passage through the Rafah border point between Egypt and Gaza.

Gaza is a densely populated strip of land approximately 140 square miles. More than two million Palestinians live in the coastal enclave, which has endured a 16-year blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel.

According to the United Nations, nearly 340,000 people in Gaza have fled their homes since the new conflict began, including 180,000 crammed into U.N.-run shelters, huddled together as intense airstrikes level entire sections of the territory. Several shelters have been attacked and the UN says at least 11 of its workers have died.

Egypt says it wants to ease its plight, and on Thursday its Foreign Ministry urged countries and aid groups to send shipments to El Arish international airport in Egypt’s northern Sinai region, 35 miles from the border. .

Although Egypt says the border is open, multiple Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza side on Monday and Tuesday have effectively closed it. And Israel said no humanitarian aid would be allowed in until Hamas frees the 150 people, including children and the elderly, it captured during brutal weekend raids.

“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electrical switch will be turned on, no water tap will be turned on and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages return home,” said Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz. said on social media Thursday.

Egypt’s position is a reminder of its exceptionally delicate role in Gaza – part border guard, part mediator – that has evolved over decades and now risks being brought down by an unpredictable conflagration that has put the entire region.

Egypt has long insisted that Israel must resolve the Palestinian question within its borders, to keep alive aspirations for a future Palestinian state. Allowing large numbers of Gazans to cross, even as refugees, “would revive the idea that Sinai is the alternative country for Palestinians,” said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a political scientist at Cairo University.

A related scenario that worries Egypt is that it could end up as the de facto administrator of Gaza.

“Egypt could never accept that,” al-Sayyid added.

Still, he said, Egypt could make some concessions, such as allowing foreigners or the wounded trapped in Gaza to leave through Egypt.

Gaza has always been a headache for El-Sisi, the trouble spot where his close ties to Israel and the United States clash uncomfortably with the pro-Palestinian views of his own people.

He is also wary of Hamas, the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood founded in 1987 at the beginning of the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising. In 2008, tens of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt after Hamas blew a hole in the border fence in Rafah. Then, during a round of conflict in Gaza in 2014, a year after el-Sisi overthrew a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood leader, Egypt urged Israel to destroy Hamas, said Steven Cook, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. .

“They were telling the Israelis to break down all the gates in Gaza to finish them off,” he said.

Israel did not go that far, although it did cooperate with Egypt to destroy a network of tunnels along the border used by Palestinians to smuggle food and other supplies from Egypt and by Hamas to obtain weapons.

Egyptian and Israeli security forces coordinated closely to monitor Gaza, and the Egyptians used strict border controls to allow a small number of Gaza residents to enter Egypt, primarily to study, obtain medical treatment, or travel to a third country.

Egyptians maintained especially tight control of the border during the four most intense periods of conflict since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

But El-Sisi must also be sensitive to a public that believes he should side with the Palestinians.

On Sunday, a day after Hamas attacks in Israel, which killed at least 1,200 people in Israel, an Egyptian police officer Two Israeli tourists and their Egyptian guide were shot dead. at an ancient Roman site in Alexandria, northern Egypt.

An opinion poll by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research released this week found that 82 percent of respondents believe Palestinians have the right to respond with violence to Israeli attacks.

To bridge these tensions, el-Sisi has tried to position himself as a peace mediator. Along with Qatar and Turkey, his government negotiated several ceasefires that helped end previous cycles of violence in Gaza, earning him recognition from Western allies such as the United States.

But Egypt’s security cooperation with Israel came under strain this week after Netanyahu denied suggestions that Egyptian officials had given Israel specific warning about an impending attack before last weekend.

However, the biggest test of El-Sisi’s approach could be the Israeli invasion of Gaza that many consider imminent.

Aid officials say large numbers of Gazans could flee to the Rafah border crossing for refuge, putting pressure on Egypt to allow them to cross. And the situation is getting worse every hour.

Gaza’s only power plant closed on Wednesday because the blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel has prevented fuel shipments. Hospitals may not be able to keep their backup generators running, said Adnan Abu Hasna, a media adviser to the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, speaking from Gaza City.

Meanwhile, patients continue to arrive in droves for treatment amid Israeli airstrikes.

“We are facing a huge disaster,” said Abu Hasna.

Eduardo Wong, Raja Abdulrahim and Monika Pronczuk contributed with reports.

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