The battle for de-escalation

Doaa El-Bey , Tuesday 7 May 2024

Warnings of the humanitarian catastrophe an Israeli ground military operation in Rafah would cause are falling on deaf ears, writes Doaa El-Bey



The Israeli military has said it took “operational control” of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt early Tuesday despite warnings from Egypt and other countries of the disastrous consequences of such a step.

The move came a day after the Israeli army declared it was evacuating 100,000 people from eastern Rafah in preparation for an expected ground assault.

 “It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extremist government is trying to use violence to guarantee it remains in power,” said former deputy foreign minister Mohamed Hegazi.

On Monday, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement warning of the dangers any military operation presents to the more than one million displaced Palestinians who have sought refuge in Rafah.

“Egypt urged Israel to practise self-restraint and avoid further escalation at this ultra-sensitive time in the negotiations to reach ceasefire in order to halt the bloodshed of Palestinian civilians who are already facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis since the start of the war in Gaza,” read the statement.

During this week’s 15th session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit Conference in the Gambian capital Banjul, Cairo demanded a decisive stance against the liquidation of the Palestinian cause through the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank.

In his address to the summit, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said that Cairo condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the Israeli aggression on Gaza, and highlighted the urgent need to implement UNSC Resolution 2720 and ensure the immediate and unconditional delivery of aid.

“We must conclude an immediate ceasefire in the bloody aggression that has taken the lives of more than 34,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, in the last seven months,” said Shourki.  

The war topped Shoukri’s agenda in meetings on the sidelines of the OIC summit with his counterparts from Sudan, Indonesia, and Pakistan, and the vice president of the Libyan Presidential Council. Shoukri also met with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian during which he briefed Amir-Abdollahian on the latest Egyptian efforts to reach a truce that would pave the way for a permanent ceasefire.

“Despite US President Joe Biden saying that war with Iran is not an Israeli decision, in his attempt to maintain the cycle of violence Netanyahu is clearly trying to drag Iran directly into the conflict,” making coordination with Iran central to avoiding any escalation in the crisis, said Hegazi.

In the final communiqué of this week’s summit, the OIC reaffirmed its solidarity with the Palestinians and called for international action to halt the genocide being committed by the Israeli occupation and accelerate the delivery of all humanitarian aid. It also urged an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

As Israel appeared determined to ignore all warnings, efforts to reach a truce in exchange for a hostage/prisoner exchange deal were stepped up.

A delegation from Hamas arrived in Cairo on Saturday and left for Qatar a day later amid reports that the group had adopted a “positive and responsible approach” in the negotiations.

Hamas’ key demands include a complete end to the fighting, Israeli withdrawal from the whole of Gaza, the return of displaced people, accelerated relief efforts, and the start of reconstruction. Israel is seeking a temporary ceasefire and the release of the 130 remaining hostages. It has said it will not halt operations until it has destroyed Hamas.

According to a statement from Netanyahu’s office, he told his cabinet Israel would not allow Hamas to regain control of Gaza or rebuild its military infrastructure.

“Israel will not agree to Hamas’ demands and will continue the fighting until all its goals are achieved,” said the statement.

The Gaza Health Ministry said last week that more than 34,000 Palestinians had been killed and close to 78,000 injured in the war.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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