Egypt is pressing to open a humanitarian corridor to Gaza and prevent the crisis from spilling over | International

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The rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which since Monday remains under a total blockade and continuous airstrikes by the Israeli army, is generating growing concern in Egypt. The Arab country is the only one, apart from Israel, that shares a border with the Strip, and fears that there will be a large displacement of people towards its territory if the situation continues to worsen or if an Israeli ground invasion is launched. In this context, calls have multiplied in recent days to open a corridor to send humanitarian aid to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, the only one that connects the strip with Egypt.

Cairo, which supports this plan, announced on Thursday that it has enabled the Al Arish airport, 50 kilometers from Rafah, to receive international humanitarian assistance destined for Gaza. Shortly after, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry announced the first shipment of humanitarian and medical aid to the Egyptian airport. For the shipments to reach Gaza, however, at least a geographically limited ceasefire in the strip will first be necessary, something that Egypt is discussing with the United States, Qatar and Turkey, Egyptian security sources have assured Reuters.

After six days of bombing and four days of siege by Israel, in response to the incursion of the armed wing of the Palestinian group Hamas into Israeli territory on Saturday, entire neighborhoods and fundamental infrastructures of Gaza, where they have been blockaded since 2007, have been razed. of two million people. Additionally, food and water are running out fast, and its only power plant stopped working on Wednesday due to lack of fuel. The UN Palestine Refugee Agency (UNRWA) estimates that there are already at least 340,000 displaced people, and the few shelters in the Strip are overcrowded.

The Rafah crossing has remained closed indefinitely for the movement of people and goods since Tuesday, according to local media and organizations and the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA). The crossing was closed after the Palestinian side of the crossing was bombed by the Israeli army three times in less than 24 hours and Israel failed to provide security guarantees for humanitarian aid convoys. Egypt assures, however, that the Rafah crossing has not been closed at any time, but admits that the destruction of facilities on the Palestinian side has prevented it from operating normally. On Monday, the crossing remained open to the movement of people and 800 managed to leave Gaza and another 500 were able to enter the Strip, according to OCHA.

In parallel with the negotiations on a humanitarian corridor, Washington has assured that it is discussing with Israel and Egypt the opening of a safe passage so that Gaza civilians can leave, presumably towards Egypt. The Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, acknowledged on Wednesday, however, that it is an “understandably complicated” issue, a day after the country's national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, advanced that it is a plan in which they are still “working”. The same Tuesday, an Israeli lieutenant colonel advised Gazan civilians to leave the Strip through Rafah, although the army withdrew the recommendation shortly after.

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Egypt, for its part, has been publicly against opening safe passages to the Sinai. In statements reported by local media, the president of the country, Abdel Fattá Al Sisi, has assured that Cairo will not allow the Palestinian issue to be resolved at the expense of others, that it will not neglect national security under any circumstances, and that it will not will deviate from his position on the establishment of a Palestinian state. Shortly after her message was spread, the Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Amira Oron, stated that her country “has no intentions in the Sinai” nor “has it asked the Palestinians to move there.” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric stressed on Wednesday that the focus must be on “protecting civilians” and that they do not want to see “a mass exodus of Gazans.”

Cairo has traditionally remained against receiving Palestinian refugees from Gaza so as not to undermine its chances of establishing a state and because it points out that Israel, as an occupying power, is responsible for the basic needs of the Gazan population. “Bringing the population of Gaza to the Sinai has historically been a red line for Cairo,” notes Mohannad Sabry, a Sinai Peninsula security expert. “Allowing the movement of Gazans to Egypt not only means [un golpe a] the Palestinian cause with a greater displacement of the population," he adds, "but it would also mean partially fulfilling a strategic objective of the Israeli army, which sees the population of the Strip as a barrier in its fight against the armed groups of Hamas and other factions. Palestinians.”

nest of insecurity

Furthermore, although the Egyptian military has largely cemented its control over the past three years, the historically marginalized North Sinai has since 2011 been a nest of insecurity and a war zone between the state and the local branch of the Islamic State. The relationship between Cairo and Hamas is also complicated by the proximity of the Palestinian militia to the Muslim Brotherhood organization, banned in Egypt.

Added to all this is that Egypt is currently going through a serious economic crisis, has welcomed more than 300,000 refugees from Sudan since April, and is two months away from holding presidential elections to revalidate Al Sisi in the midst of growing social fatigue. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned on Wednesday during a visit by his Italian counterpart, Antonio Tajani, that instability and the expansion of the conflict in Gaza threaten to cause more refugees, including to Europe.

A man drives through the rubble caused by an Israeli bombing in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, this Thursday.SAID KHATIB (AFP)

Despite opposing the idea, the governorate of North Sinai convened its crisis cabinet on Sunday to address the situation in Gaza, and above all instructed the health, supply, education and housing directorates to prepare to face an eventual crisis, take inventory of their capabilities and identify points of refuge. Vacations and breaks for workers in the region's medical sector were also suspended.

In the event that there are finally Palestinians who cross into Egypt, the authorities' plan is to welcome them in the first two cities after Gaza, Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed, a maximum of 14 kilometers from the Strip and without reaching the capital. provincial of Al Arish, according to official sources stated to the Egyptian media Madam Masr. For now, however, Egypt has not begun to mobilize. “There is nothing on the ground to indicate that there are serious preparations for the arrival of refugees from Gaza, and this is also the public position of the Egyptian government,” says Ahmed Salem, director of the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights. Salem points out, however, that they have detected military reinforcements near the border: “Since the beginning of the war, the Egyptian army has established six new checkpoints in Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed, and sends troops to inspect the surroundings daily. of the border.”

In early 2008, after the first six months of a suffocating siege on Gaza, Hamas forces tore down a wall built by Israel on the border with Egypt and hundreds of thousands of people entered the Sinai, mainly to buy all kinds of basic products. . On that occasion, the Egyptian security cordon was lifted in front of the Suez Canal, which separates the Sinai from the rest of Egypt, and the episode lasted about 10 days.

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