President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has received a situation assessment and proposed actions from top foreign policy and national security aides amid developments in Gaza.
According to the memos offered for the president's consideration over the past two days, the situation in Gaza is likely to get worse for at least a week, and Egypt should not go it alone in providing assistance through its eastern borders — the only border to the heavily populated and highly impoverished Palestinian Gaza Strip not controlled by Israel.
On Wednesday, Cairo decided to allow a limited opening of its otherwise generally closed border with Gaza, to allow into Egypt critical cases in need of medical assistance that cannot be provided in Gaza's barely equipped hospitals.
“Only the very critical cases would be allowed, and the policy on the escorting of relatives is very tight. We have more than we can put up with in Sinai (on the border with Gaza) to allow — or much less solicit — the infiltration of more radical militants,” said the same government official.
Egypt, according to the official narrative, has been fighting a hard “war” against “a large and serious presence of radical militant groups that have been stationed in Sinai since the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The Egyptian armed forces, trying to eliminate the radical militants that have subjected Egyptian conscripts to numerous lethal attacks, is not finished in its fight and is not willing to see the situation get more complicated should additional militants find their way to Sinai, a security source said.
An Egyptian soldier was killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb targeted an armoured vehicle in Rafah, near the border with Gaza, medical and security officials said.
Four soldiers were also wounded in the attack, the officials said.
“Let us face it, the direct border between Egypt and Gaza is not even under the full control of Hamas. It is rather under the control of more radical groups that are in operational contact with Al-Qaeda and ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). This is a very serious matter,” he said.
Expert recommendations to the president remind that Egypt would be in breach of international humanitarian law should it continue to keep its border closed as Israel intensifies its military attack on Gaza that could even lead to a ground invasion and the creation of a wave of refugees. To avoid this scenario, policymakers recommend upgrading contacts with Israel and other parties with the aim of ending the military attack via a political deal.
Egyptian diplomats say that intensive contacts over more than a week failed to avert the Israeli operation.
“Israel has a list of demands following the abduction and killing of its three settlers, but the Hamas leadership declined to accommodate these demands,” said one diplomatic source, who declined to specify the list of Israeli demands. He added, however, that Egypt had managed to cut down the list quite considerably, but that Hamas was still not willing to cede to Israeli demands.
The same diplomat said that the line offered by Khaled Meshal, the top Hamas leader, in his political statement Wednesday show that Hamas is not yet willing to reach a deal and that “the Palestinians in Gaza would be paying the price for the irresponsible decisions of Hamas.”
Top political and intelligence officials in Cairo continued Wednesday to brief the president’s office on the latest contacts with Israel and reported “clear Israeli intransigence.”
“Short of a political deal — which might need an international guarantor, rather than just a regional sponsor — the Israeli prime minister seems to be, more for internal rather than Palestinian reasons, giving the go ahead for at least a few more days of strikes; and actually yes, maybe the start of a limited ground operation,” the diplomat said.
In Jeddah today (Thursday), early afternoon, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will be conferring with five counterparts from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to decide a united policy on Gaza that should attend the situation with an eye to an eventual political deal that could secure a long term truce.
It was not immediately clear whether this meeting would respond to appeals made from the heart of Gaza for basic humanitarian assistance.
Meanwhile, a source at the Arab League said that the pan-Arab organisation was considering a high-level official meeting (“a ministerial might be difficult due to the summer holidays,” said one source), to consider a collective political reaction that could “send Israel a clear message of discontent and prompt Hamas at the same time to show political realism.”
The Arab League source indicated that the “line of action would be essentially decided by the line offered by the Palestinian representative's demands.” He shrugged the possibility that the Palestinain Authority’s intense and long political conflict with Hamas could overshadow the position of its representative on Gaza.
“The basic line is that the operation has to be stopped and that it would take a compromise to get there. It happened before in 2009, and it happened in 2012. This is the way things are,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Egypt has stepped up security measures on its eastern border for fear of what one informed source qualified as "unforeseeable developments."
"Things are already very complicated there for us; we just lost soldiers (on Wednesday) and our assessment of how the situation could unfold should make us very careful. Things could really take a difficult turn," he said.