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Egypt warns against Israeli attack on Rafah, denounces Hamas

Egypt warns against any Israeli offensive on Gaza's Rafah, denounces Hamas
4 min read
Egypt - Cairo
19 February, 2024
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry denied his country's intention to receive an influx of Palestinians from Gaza.
Cairo has been concerned over a massive displacement of Palestinians in Gaza into the Egyptian side of Rafah city. [Getty]

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned over the weekend against any Israeli military operation in Gaza's Rafah city bordering North Sinai province, describing the imminent ground offensive as "a direct threat to Egypt’s national security."

Shourky, meanwhile, denied in statements to reporters on Saturday, during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference, his country's intention to receive an influx of Palestinians to Sinai.

"We will not deal with the hypothetical. And we will continue to call upon all our friends, all of those who understand the complexities and the dangers associated with it, to not only provide support by rhetoric but to indicate clearly that there will be consequences for any form of displacement," Shoukry told reporters.

Shoukry added that while Egypt would deal with civilians "humanely," the displacement of Palestinians into Sinai remained unacceptable.

"This is very hypothetical. We have constantly been dealing with maintenance on our border … maintaining the road networks there, [the] usual maintenance to our border fortifications. So I think it is jumping to conclusions what those activities constitute," Shoukry told reporters in Munich.

News reports have frequently pointed to the construction of a buffer zone  underway on the Egyptian border with Gaza, where concrete walls have been being built in preparation for a possible influx of Palestinians.

The New Arab reported earlier last week that Egyptian engineering teams had already begun new construction work in the Egyptian part of the city, sparking concerns among Sinai residents as well as raising questions about the prospect of forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza into the emerging buffer zone on the Egyptian side.

Gaza's side of Rafah has been hosting about one million and a half Palestinians mostly displaced from elsewhere in the strip since the Israeli offensive on the besieged enclave kicked off in October last year and killed about 30,000 Palestinians so far.

Both the Egyptian and Gazan sides are called Rafah City, split by the Rafah crossing through which aid and people flow into Gaza.

"We are working to maintain and strengthen our borders all the time, and judging current activities is a kind of jumping to non-existent conclusions," Shoukry noted. 

The Egyptian minister further said that Egypt has been finalising repairs on the roads leading to the Rafah border crossing, for hundreds of aid trucks had been piling up on the Egyptian side of the border. 

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Earlier on the same day, North Sinai Governor Mohamed Abdel-Fadil Shousha declared the government had been establishing a logistics hub in Rafah to receive humanitarian aid.

Cairo has been concerned over a massive displacement of Palestinians in Gaza into the Egyptian side of Rafah city in Sinai.

In recent weeks, a large number of Egyptian troops, mostly special forces and commandos, have reportedly been deployed in Egypt's Rafah, as unconfirmed reports had earlier indicated that some 40 tanks had been positioned in and around the border area.

Top diplomat under fire

Also, during the conference in Munich, the top diplomat criticised the Palestinian Hamas faction, currently ruling Gaza, for the armed group, according to Shoukry, "refuses to abandon violence" and has been acting against the Palestinian consensus seeking peace with Israel.

"There has to be also accountability in why Hamas was empowered in Gaza and why was it being financed in Gaza to perpetuate the division between Hamas and the rest of the mainstream Palestinian peacemaking entities," Shoukry said, demanding parties supporting Hama to be held accountable.

Shoukry's statements draw backlash among Egyptians and Palestinians alike.

"Had [the criticism] of Hamas been made within a different context, we would have ignored it for being nothing but political delusions…[Hamas] won free elections, but [Israel] was the one that thwarted the peace process," Palestinian writer and analyst Yasser El-Zaatreh posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Prominent Egyptian journalist Wael Kandil posted on X: "Against the will of Sameh Shoukry, there is no future for the [Israeli] occupation."

Egypt was the first Arab state to normalise ties with Israel despite widespread opposition from the Egyptian public.