Egypt coordinating to secure navigation in Red Sea: FM Shoukry

Ahram Online , Thursday 21 Dec 2023

Egypt is currently coordinating with the countries bordering the Red Sea to secure maritime navigation, the country’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Thursday, as Houthi attacks against ships passing the Red Sea continue, leading to the establishment of an international US-led coalition.

In this photo provided by Egypt s foreign ministry media office, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, right, and his British counterpart David Cameron, left, speak during a press conference at Tahrir Palace in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. AP

All countries bordering the Red Sea share the responsibility for upholding freedom of navigation and facilitating access to the Egyptian Suez Canal, Shoukry told a briefing in Cairo with his British counterpart David Cameron, whose country is a co-participant in the US-led coalition.

Shoukry said he discussed the developments related to the Red Sea with Cameron, adding: “Egypt, from its side, will coordinate to facilitate the free transfer of goods and to combat any side effects.”

Earlier this week, the US unveiled its plans to set up a US-led multinational naval protection initiative, dubbed "Operation Prosperity Guardian", to safeguard Red Sea shipping amid the ongoing attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels on commercial ships.

The Pentagon reported that over 100 drone and missile attacks by Yemeni rebels targeted 10 merchant vessels from the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula.

The collation also includes Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain.

Cameron expressed the UK’s pride to take part in the US initiative, noting that British ships will be provided to support the operation, with the aim of “keeping those sea lanes open.”

“Maritime security and freedom of movement for ships is absolutely vital. It is vital for Egypt, it is vital for Britain and vital for the whole world. The alternative of allowing trade to be disrupted is blockages of supply, inflation, and economic disruption,” Cameron said during the presser.

“We cannot allow this to happen,” he stated, adding: “There should be an end to these threats.”

The Houthis claim that their strikes on passing container ships are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza amid Israel's ongoing conflict with the besieged strip.

"We [Houthis] are not the kind of people who are afraid of war," said rebel leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi on Wednesday.

"If the Americans intend to escalate further, get more involved and commit foolishness by targeting our country... we will target them," he said in a speech broadcast on the rebel's Al-Masirah television.

Minister Cameron said these repeated attacks on the shipping vessels passing through this waterway “will be damaging to Egypt, damaging to the UK, and damaging to the whole world,”

The UK, he added, is particularly concerned about these attacks due to its role as the home of the International Maritime Organization and its status as a trading nation with global reach.

"I think it’s absolutely essential, not just for us, but for everybody," the UK’s top diplomat stressed.

"That is why we will not only invest in this operation, but we will also make it absolutely clear to Iran [regarding] the danger of encouraging proxies to attack ships. This has to stop," he stressed.

As a result of these attacks, some shipping companies temporarily suspended passage through the Bab Al-Mandeb strait, which leads to Egypt’s Suez Canal, to the Cape of Good Hope route around Africa.

On Sunday, Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), reported that 55 ships had opted for the Cape of Good Hope route instead of the Suez Canal route since November 19.

Rabie, however, deemed this figure a minor percentage compared to the 2,128 ships that successfully crossed the canal during the same period.

Rabie emphasized the normalcy of navigation traffic in the Suez Canal — the shortest maritime route between Asia and Europe and the fastest crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean.

War on Gaza

Minister Shoukry also urged the United Nations Security Council to assume responsibility and bring an end to the war in Gaza, especially amid the human casualties that exceeded 20,000 residents.

"We hope that the UN Security Council’s resolution -regarding the Gaza Strip- meets the requirements and the needs of the people of the Strip," Shoukry said.

Shoukry also highlighted the ongoing tragic humanitarian crisis faced by the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, reiterating the call for an immediate ceasefire, and sustained access for humanitarian aid to the strip.

Egypt’s top diplomat stressed the UK's permanent membership in the Security Council places on its shoulders a special responsibility to address such issues, whether in Gaza or the region.

Shoukry said his discussions with Cameron touched on the joint work within the framework of adopting a new Security Council resolution on the Gaza war.

He described the much-awaited UNSC decision as a humanitarian resolution in the first place, as it deals with sufficient access to aid to meet the needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

From his side, the UK Foreign Minister acknowledged that there is a major humanitarian crisis faced by the 2.4 million residents in the Gaza Strip, where people are facing hunger and sickness.

He also stressed that Israel must adhere to international law and take steps to reduce the number of civilian victims.

Cameron emphasized the importance of achieving a unanimous Security Council resolution on Gaza and ensuring that the border crossings remain open for the entry of aid.

He said efforts are currently being made to ensure the flow of aid.

Shoukry expressed his disappointment in the absence of willingness to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-state solution – a matter that he said creates more violence and more victims and affects the stability of the whole region.

"For three decades, we have been talking about the two-state solution, but there is no will from the Israeli government or the international community."

In early December, under increasing domestic opposition to the war in Gaza, the UK, a staunch supporter of Israel, abstained in the vote on a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire in the war.

A UN Security Council vote on a much-delayed resolution calling for a pause to Israel's Gaza war was postponed again Wednesday as members wrangled over wording while the civilian death toll in Gaza mounts.

The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza says Israel's war has killed nearly 20,000 people, mainly women and children, and wounded more than 50,000 others.

The war has also displaced 1.9 million people (80 percent of the strip's population) sparking a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

UK's approach on Gaza-Israel War

Speaking about the UK's approach regarding the Israeli war on Gaza, Cameron said, "In terms of what Britain is doing, we are saying very clearly to Israel they have to obey the international humanitarian law and they should minimise the number of civilian casualties".

He further added, "What we need is a sustainable ceasefire, where Hamas is no longer able to threaten Israel with rockets and with terrorism and where the fighting can stop, and the talks about how we can have a long-term solution, peace and stability".

The US wants Israel and Palestine to have secured borders, describing it as the "long-term answer.”

Cameron also expressed his support for a ceasefire to allow the delivery of aid and the release of hostages, including the British hostages.

Double Standards: Gaza vs. Ukraine

Regarding Ukraine and Gaza, Cameron said, I don’t accept that the UK has double standards.

"The case with Russia and Ukraine is incredibly simple; one country, Russia, invaded another country, Ukraine. I believe every country should condemn what Russia did and should support Ukraine," he noted.

"What we have seen in Israel and Gaza, we are witnessing an absolute tragedy today … we have to remember October 7th when Israel suffered the equivalent of many 9/11th and an invasion all combined before the events in Gaza. So, I believe the two situations are not the same,” the UK Foreign Minister stressed.

In response, Shoukry said that there are many aspects of the Gaza crisis, noting that "the October 7th events were not the beginning" but rather in 1967.

"There is an internationally recognized state of occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967; there is a state occupying the lands of another, and the comparisons made are largely accurate in their place," Shoukry said.

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