Egypt denies that Palestinians fleeing Gaza are being 'forced to pay' extortionate bribes
The head of the Egyptian State Information Service (SIS), Diaa Rashwan, stressed that official authorities at the Rafah crossing are "collecting fees in accordance with Egyptian law regulating border-crossing operations" and described the media reports of bribery as groundless.
Rashwan also dismissed other reports suggesting that "some unofficial parties were collecting charges in return for allowing passengers to cross into Egyptian territories from Gaza", the Egyptian official news agency MENA reported.
His denials came after an investigation published by the UK’s The Guardian newspaper on Monday said that Palestinians desperate to flee Gaza are paying Egyptian officials bribes of up to $10,000 to escape the war zone.
"Egypt has categorically rejected, since the beginning of the Israeli aggression on Gaza, to yield to economic and financial pressures and temptations to accept the liquidation of the Palestinian cause or the forced displacement of Palestinian brothers outside or inside their land," Rashwan said.
Despite denying reports of extortion, Egyptian authorities have urged Palestinians seeking to leave Gaza to inform security officials if they are being forced to pay bribes at the border.
Officials in Cairo urged such action so they can take "decisive and immediate legal actions concerning any incidents of profiteering behind the Palestinian cause", as well as hold those responsible to account.
The Rafah border is the sole point of crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It has also been the entry point for aid that has trickled into Gaza amid a devastating war that has killed over 23,000 Palestinians.
Very few Palestinians have been able to evacuate the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, pushing those needing to flee to pay exorbitant amounts of money.
The Guardian report said that those trying to get their names on lists of people allowed to leave through the border are paying "coordination fees" running into thousands of dollars to brokers and couriers with alleged links to the Egyptian intelligence services.
Many Palestinians living overseas, especially those who have received no assistance from their countries, have been left with no choice but to pay such sums of money to get relatives out of Gaza.
"It’s very frustrating and saddening," one Palestinian man told The Guardian. "They are trying to exploit people who are suffering, who are trying to get out of the hell in Gaza."