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Egypt in delicate situation as Israeli assault on Gaza continues

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TBS Report

October 16, 2023, 2:40 p.m.

Last modification: October 16, 2023, 2:57 p.m.

Palestinians are fleeing their homes towards the southern part of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s call for more than a million civilians in northern Gaza to move south within 24 hours, amid Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza City on October 13, 2023. REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot

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Palestinians are fleeing their homes towards the southern part of the Gaza Strip after Israel's call for more than a million civilians in northern Gaza to move south within 24 hours, amid Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza City on October 13, 2023. REUTERS /Ahmed Zakot

Palestinians are fleeing their homes towards the southern part of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s call for more than a million civilians in northern Gaza to move south within 24 hours, amid Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza City on October 13, 2023. REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi said on Sunday that Egypt believed the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip had “exceeded the right to self-defense” and amounted to collective punishment.

He recently received US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cairo where they discussed the ongoing crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, Al Jazeera reports.

Egypt’s priority was to end the violence and provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians stuck in Gaza, the Egyptian president said.

Small movements in Sinai, demonstrations in Cairo

Egypt has opened its El Arish airport to receive international aid for the besieged population of Gaza, with planes arriving including from Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Combined with donations from Egypt, they were loaded into more than 100 trucks lined up in the northern Sinai Peninsula and ready to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing. A blood donation campaign has been launched by the Egyptian government, with the creation of donation centers in all governorates.

After negotiations with the United States and others, Egypt agreed to a swap that would allow binational Palestinians trapped in a blockaded enclave on Egyptian territory to leave in exchange for safe passage from Israel for humanitarian aid .

However, there was no movement on either side of the border as Egypt was informed on Saturday that Israel had denied safe passage to humanitarian trucks.

In response, Egypt refused entry to Gazans with dual nationality on the grounds that their exit from Gaza depended on Israel allowing a humanitarian convoy to enter the enclave.

The exact number of dual-national Palestinians stranded in Rafah is unclear. According to the US government, between 500 and 600 US passport holders are stranded in the Gaza Strip. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna will visit Cairo on Monday and is expected to discuss whether dual nationals should be allowed to leave Gaza, given the presence of several French citizens there.

Over time, photos emerged on social media showing Egyptian workers constructing concrete blocks on their side of the Rafah border crossing on Saturday.

Observers have noted that Egypt is wary of the Rafah border crossing, and on Tuesday the Al Ahram Online news site cited sources as saying that “some parties and forces” were planning to forcibly expel Palestinians from their lands and resettle them in Sinai.

The Palestinian cause has long enjoyed broad support in Egypt, which made officials nervous about the backlash and was reflected in the content of sermons after Friday prayers.

According to independent media outlet Mada Masr, the government feared the “chaos” that could result from overzealous Friday sermons, including those at Al-Azhar, Egypt’s theological authority and Cairo’s most famous mosque.

In addition to Friday prayers, numerous demonstrations in support of Palestine in Egypt took place throughout the week. A conference of the Egyptian Journalists Association is scheduled for tomorrow to present the weekly report on the Israeli army’s crimes against journalists, which have so far resulted in the deaths of ten Palestinian journalists and one Lebanese journalist.

The lawyers’ union also planned a support rally on Monday.

The “red line” of Egyptian national security

For some observers, this reflects Egypt’s concerns over the massive influx of Palestinian refugees into the Sinai.

However, according to local sources, Egypt does not want to block traffic so much as secure its border, devastated by recent Israeli bombings. In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that “the border crossing on the Palestinian side is closed due to the recent bombings” and that Egypt would evacuate foreigners “in consultation with the relevant embassies” once the infrastructure is repaired. . .

The country is also awaiting an agreement with Israel on the transport of humanitarian aid. But whatever Egyptian intentions, the concentration of people near the Rafah border crossing could lead to increased tensions as Palestinians move closer to the Egyptian border.

Calls have come from Egypt for the government to open the Gaza border crossing after Israel ordered the relocation of more than a million residents to the south near the border. But Cairo was cautious.

“Egypt’s national security is my most important responsibility and I will not neglect it under any circumstances,” Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Wednesday.

El-Sissi, who considers himself a natural mediator, has publicly doubted that in the event of a mass expulsion in Egypt, hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians would be able to return to their country, as in previous conflicts. Egypt’s National Security Council reiterated these views during its meeting on Sunday, during which it reaffirmed that Egypt’s national security was its top priority and declared that everything concerning it represented a “red line “.

The government also clearly expressed its “rejection and condemnation of any resettlement or liquidation of the Palestinian cause to the detriment of neighboring countries” and proposed a regional summit on “the development and future of the Palestinian cause.”

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