Egypt steps up pressure on Israel to abandon Gaza's Rafah military operation

Amr Kandil , Tuesday 14 May 2024

Cairo has been exerting increased pressure on Israel over the past week to withdraw forces from Gaza’s southern city of Rafah and abandon its globally rejected plans for a full-scale invasion.

Demonstrators hold signs as they protest during a rally in support of Rafah, next to a pro-Palestinian encampment at California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA) in Los Angeles, California. AFP


Egypt is weighing downgrading its diplomatic relations with Israel, including pulling Cairo’s ambassador from Tel Aviv, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing Egyptian officials.

Another source told the newspaper that Egypt has no plans to completely cut relations with Israel or deactivate the Camp David treaty.

However, Egypt announced on Sunday that it will officially intervene in support of South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a move that left Israeli diplomats fuming.

In a statement, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Cairo's decision to intervene in the lawsuit comes due to the escalating Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, deliberate targeting of civilians, infrastructure destruction, and forced displacement.

In remarks to Tel Aviv-based i24NEWS, an Israeli diplomatic source described Egypt’s decision to support the case as a “stab in the back.”

Moreover, Egyptian military officials canceled planned meetings with their Israeli counterparts against the background of Israeli operations along the Egypt-Gaza border, i24NEWS said in a separate report on Monday, citing an Israeli source.

On 7 May, Israel launched ground assaults in the city of Rafah, which is close to the Egyptian border and shelters over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, bringing immediate condemnation from Cairo.

The incursion saw Israeli tanks taking over the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing and raising the Israeli flags there, despite Egypt’s warnings that an operation in Rafah would endanger the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

On Tuesday, Israeli tanks advanced further into eastern Rafah, penetrating residential areas and intensifying their assault in the southern border city, where over a million individuals sought refuge following displacement during seven months of conflict.

The tanks moved west of Salah Al-Din road this morning, entering the Brazil and Jneina neighborhoods.

A tank with an Israel flag on it entered the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. Israel Army via AP

Last Tuesday, Egypt condemned Israel’s operations in Rafah and its takeover of the crossing as constituting a “brinkmanship policy” that undermines ongoing Israel-Hamas talks to reach a sustainable truce.

The Egyptian foreign ministry stressed that this dangerous escalation threatens the lives of more than a million Palestinians who depend primarily on this crossing.

‘Nowhere to go’


According to two senior administration officials who spoke to CNN on Monday, the Joe Biden administration believes that Israel has gathered sufficient troops near Rafah in Gaza to launch “a full-scale” military operation in the coming days.

However, these officials are uncertain if Israel has definitively decided to proceed with this action, which would directly oppose President Biden's stance.

One of the officials cautioned that Israel has not adequately prepared for such a move, lacking essential infrastructure for food, hygiene, and shelter, especially considering the potential evacuation of over one million Gazans residing in Rafah, according to CNN.

Should Israel carry out a major ground operation in Rafah, it would disregard months of US warnings against a full-scale offensive in this densely populated city. President Biden reiterated this warning recently, telling CNN’s Erin Burnett that the US would withhold additional arms shipments if Israel were to take such a step.

As Israel is ordering more evacuations of tens of thousands of people in Rafah via dropping leaflets and sending phone messages, the UN has warned of grave humanitarian consequences in the city.


“There is nowhere safe on the Gaza strip to go to,” said UNICEF in a report on 7 May.

“Now Rafah itself is under attack, placing the lives of 600,000 children at risk,” it added.

Over half a million Palestinians have been displaced in recent days by escalating Israeli army attacks on southern and northern Gaza, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said on Tuesday.

A Palestinian makeshift tents during the dusk at a camp in Deir al Balah, Monday, May 13, 2024

As the war enters its eighth month, Israeli bombardment in Gaza has killed over 35,000 people and injured more than 79,000 others, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

The Israeli attacks also damaged most of the territory’s infrastructure, displaced the majority of the population, and left the strip in an imminent famine.

No coordination

On Saturday, an informed source stated that Egypt rejects coordination with Israel regarding the Rafah crossing due to the unacceptable Israeli escalation.

Egypt also informed all concerned parties of Israel's responsibility for the deterioration of humanitarian conditions in Gaza, the source added.

Egyptian sovereign sources denied media reports about a phone call between Head of the General Intelligence Service (GIS) Abbas Kamel and Israel’s Shin Bet (Shabak) Director Ronen Bar regarding the Rafah crossing crisis.

Axios reported that Bar told Kamel in a phone call about the Israeli desire to reopen the Rafah crossing, citing a “source with knowledge of the call” on Monday.

“The determinants of the Egyptian position are clear and announced to everyone and such [media] reports have no basis in reality,” the sovereign sources said, as cited by Al-Qahera News.

Axios asserted in its report that Egypt has suspended the delivery of aid trucks through the Israel-controlled Karm Abu Salem crossing until forces withdraw from Rafah.

Israel is concerned that the Egyptian refusal to coordinate the aid delivery with Israel will place severe global pressure on Israel and harm its Rafah operation, Israeli sources told Channel 12.

Blocking people, aid

Since the start of the war in October, the Rafah crossing has served as the main and unparalleled pathway for thousands of humanitarian aid trucks, delivering life-saving aid from Egypt, the world countries, and relief agencies.

Egypt has also facilitated the evacuation of tens of thousands of dual passport holders, Egyptians, and seriously injured individuals from Gaza over the past months.

Due to the border closure, a team of international doctors, including at least 10 Americans, are now trapped in the European Hospital near Rafah, The Washington Post reported, citing medical personnel.

Moreover, a US security staff from India was killed and another was injured near Rafah when their UN vehicle was struck by Israeli forces while traveling to the same hospital on Monday.

The crossing capture last week granted Israel control over the entry and exit of people and goods for the first time since the withdrawal of its soldiers and settlers from the strip in 2005.

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