End ‘collective punishment’

Doaa El-Bey , Sunday 12 Nov 2023

With hopes for a breakthrough in Gaza fading, Egypt is continuing diplomatic efforts to promote a ceasefire, writes Doaa El-Bey

Shoukri, Safadi, and Blinken (photo: AP)
Shoukri, Safadi, and Blinken (photo: AP)


In a meeting bringing together Arab foreign ministers with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said Israel was using the rubric of self-defence to inflict “collective punishment” on Palestinians in Gaza.

During the meeting, Egypt — with the backing of Arab foreign ministers — demanded an immediate ceasefire and the continuous entry of aid to the Gaza Strip.

Blinken warned that such a move would be counterproductive and could encourage more violence by Hamas. “It is our view now that a ceasefire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did,” he said.

There had been hopes the meeting would promote a ceasefire, said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity, but Blinken stuck to his position that a ceasefire would harm Israel’s right to defend its citizens. 

The meeting ended with a US call for a humanitarian pause rather than a ceasefire, though even that was rejected by the Israeli prime minister.

Shoukri and his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Al-Safadi agreed to keep working with Blinken and others to end the war and give the Palestinian people reason to hope for a future state of their own.

The foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Jordan attended the meeting in the Jordanian capital Amman, alongside a senior Palestinian official.

Despite the failure of the meeting to achieve a ceasefire, Egyptian efforts to de-escalate the situation and ease the suffering of Gazans continue. 

In a phone call with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said Egypt’s coordination with international partners to promote humanitarian relief should not be seen as an alternative to a ceasefire and stressed that the international community has a political and moral responsibility to protect civilians and halt Israel’s policy of collective punishment.

While Egypt’s efforts to reach a ceasefire, said the diplomatic source, are primarily motivated by humanitarian concerns and a desire to ease the suffering of the Palestinians there is also a security dimension, given most people in Gaza are moving south towards Egypt.

Samir Ghattas, head of the Middle East Forum for Political and Strategic Studies, said “people in Gaza do not want to leave their land but they want to live, they want their basic needs, food, electricity, water, and medicine, and these are the supplies Egypt is working to provide.”

Fifty aid trucks were allowed to enter Gaza on Monday after the Rafah crossing reopened after a two-day closure. The UN has said at least 100 humanitarian trucks need to enter Gaza daily to cover the most urgent needs of the population. 

Humanitarian ceasefires are desperately needed to allow for the delivery of food, fuel and other essentials, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Martin Griffiths said during a briefing in New York last week.

Having just returned from the region, Griffiths continued: “What we’ve seen unfold over the last 26 days in Israel and in the occupied territories is nothing short of what I think I would call a blight on our collective conscience.” 

Shoukri has held a series of meetings and phone calls in an attempt to de-escalate the situation in Gaza.

He discussed the deteriorating humanitarian situation with the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) Cindy McCain in Cairo, stressing that a major humanitarian operation was needed to secure the basic needs of Gaza’s inhabitants. Shoukri also highlighted the logistic difficulties imposed by the Israeli side impeding the delivery of aid, including Israel’s repeated bombing of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing.

In a meeting in Cairo on Tuesday with Jibril Rajoub, the secretary-general of Fatah’s central committee, and Volker Türk, the UN commissioner for human rights, Shoukri reiterated Cairo’s concerns about humanitarian conditions in Gaza.

Egypt’s foreign minister also briefed his Turkish and Venezuelan counterparts Hakan Fidan and Yván Gil Pinto on Cairo’s efforts to reach an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

During his visit to Cairo on Monday, Pinto said a ceasefire was urgently needed to protect the lives of Palestinians and provide humanitarian relief to civilians.

The war on Gaza has left more than 10,000 Palestinians dead, a figure expected to rise as many bodies remain trapped beneath the rubble of destroyed buildings.

More than 1.5 million people have been displaced, with 600,000 crowded in shelters run by the UNRWA which has lost 72 staff members, the highest ever death toll of UN staff in a conflict.

Comforting Palestinian students 

THE EGYPTIAN NGO Misr Foundation for Health and Sustainable Development (MFHSD) has launched Enta Mish Lewahdak (You Are Not Alone), reports Mai Samih

The initiative aims to provide psychological support for Palestinian students in Egyptian universities to help them deal with the repercussions of the war in Gaza which has so far killed over 10,000 Palestinians, 70 per cent of whom are women and children.

The first steps were launched from the Faculty of Medicine of Ain Shams University in which individual and group psychological support sessions were provided by several volunteer psychiatrists and specialists, a press release said. The NGO plans to expand the service to other universities.

“We are following the events in Gaza and discovered that our assistance to the people there was limited,” MFHSD coordinator Ziad Walid said. However, Walid added, they realised they could play a role by counselling Palestinians living in Egypt, including university students who have been affected by the ongoing conflict.

Walid noted that the foundation also provides online psychological support for Palestinian women and free online testing for female Palestinian students with problems related to reproductive health. 

The service began three weeks ago and is scheduled to continue for four more months or longer, said Walid. It all depends on how the events unfold as well as the needs of the beneficiaries of the service, he added.

“In these difficult moments interconnectedness and solidarity between people is very important. These help people deal with such difficult situations,” Walid stressed.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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