On the border with the Gaza Strip, armored vehicles and tanks, as well as soldiers, were sent as reinforcements by the Egyptian authorities to a 5-kilometer buffer zone erected since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, in October 2023. A high concrete wall equipped with barbed wire and watchtowers, plunging more than 6 meters underground, now separates the Sinai desert from the Palestinian enclave.
The threat by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of an offensive on Rafah, the last refuge for more than 1.4 million displaced Palestinians, is making the authorities in Cairo feverish. Their room for maneuver is limited in the face of Israel’s will. They can only protest and invoke the support of Washington, to prevent a devastating offensive, which could push hundreds of thousands of Gazans to try to flee to the Sinai.
“We do not oppose the plans [d’Israël] to attack the four Hamas battalions located in Rafah, but our red lines are clear: that there be no massacre and that this does not imply an influx of displaced people towards Sinai. It is therefore necessary to evacuate the civilians [vers le nord de la bande de Gaza], but we don’t really see how this is possible”, comments an Egyptian diplomatic source. The enclave has been reduced to a field of ruins by the Israeli army and humanitarian aid is trickling in.
Relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv have been strained since the start of the war in Gaza. At the suggestion of Israeli officials, the American administration tried to convince Egypt to welcome the 2 million Gazans to give Israel free rein to destroy Hamas. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi opposed it, citing the specter of a second Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) – the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians at the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, since condemned to exile.
Mr. Sissi also raised the risk that Sinai would become a platform for infiltrated members of Hamas to attack Israel, while Egypt is already fighting a jihadist insurgency there. Tensions rose again in January when Israel said it wanted to take control of the Philadelphia road, a demilitarized zone between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, on the grounds that Cairo would let Hamas operate smuggling tunnels there. Egypt denounced ” lies “ and warned Israel against action that would violate the Camp David Accords, signed in 1978.
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