Gaza: Possible breakthrough?

Doaa El-Bey , Tuesday 26 Mar 2024

The adoption of the UN Security Council resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza has been welcomed by Cairo despite being “unbalanced”.

Guterres in Rafah


Despite reservations from the Foreign Ministry which described Monday’s Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for the rest of Ramadan as “unbalanced and with a limited time frame”, Cairo welcomed the move as an opportunity to allow the delivery of much needed humanitarian aid.

The last few days have seen strenuous Egyptian efforts to secure a ceasefire and negate Israeli attempts to forcibly displace Palestinians from their land and liquidate the Palestinian cause.

Meeting in Cairo this week, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated their rejection of any further displacement of Palestinians and warned of the “disastrous” consequences of Israeli military operations in Rafah.

Underlining that the two-state solution is the only way to achieve stability and security in the region, they called for the conditions to be created to move towards the goal of an independent Palestinian state.

Guterres’ second visit to Egypt since the start of the Israeli aggression on Gaza began with a visit to the border where he held a press conference highlighting Palestinian suffering. Standing next to a queue of trucks waiting to gain access to Gaza, he said the world has “seen enough” horrors from the Israeli war on Gaza and appealed for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow in the much-needed aid.

“Palestinians in Gaza — children, women, men — remain stuck in a non-stop nightmare… That is more than tragic. It is a moral outrage,” said Guterres.

The border city of Rafah is the last refuge for more than 1.5 million Palestinians, most of them displaced by the war and in dire need of food and other basic needs.

The same concerns were reiterated during President Al-Sisi’s meeting with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in Cairo on Saturday. The two leaders discussed the latest efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza and ways to provide humanitarian aid and reiterated that the two-state solution was the only guarantor of stability and security in the region.

President Al-Sisi also warned of the dangerous repercussions of an Israeli military ground offensive in Rafah during his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cairo last week. Blinken was making his sixth regional tour since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza in October. 

Al-Sisi demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and urgent action to allow sustained humanitarian aid to enter the Strip. Major General Abbas Kamel, head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, attended the meeting.

Blinken also met Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri who told his American counterpart that the Palestinians were well aware of Tel Aviv’s goal to liquidate the Palestinian cause and create a new Nakba.

Expressing his concern over the acute food shortage in Gaza, Blinken described the death of children from malnutrition as unacceptable. “We can’t and we must not allow this to continue,” he said. Warning that any Israeli military offensive in Rafah would worsen the situation, Blinken insisted “there is a better way to deal with the threat — the ongoing threat — posed by Hamas”.

Demands for an immediate ceasefire were echoed by the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar, the minister of state for international cooperation of the United Arab Emirates and the secretary-general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation during a meeting in Cairo last week.

In a joint statement, the Arab officials demanded implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2720 and offered their full support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

Earlier this month, the Israeli army announced plans to relocate 1.4 million Palestinians currently displaced in Rafah to designated “humanitarian islands” in the middle of the Strip. The announcement was widely seen as a precursor to a military assault on the Rafah.

The planned ground operation faces intense international opposition and warnings it would cause mass civilian casualties and further worsen the humanitarian crisis.

Behind the scenes talks between Hamas and Israel to secure a truce and hostage/prisoner exchange have so far failed to bear fruit. The latest round of talks held in Qatar earlier this week ended amid reports of deep differences remaining between Hamas and Israel. US intelligence chief William Burns and his Israeli counterpart David Barnea, both of whom attended the talks, subsequently left Doha for consultations with their governments.

During his visit to Cairo, Blinken insisted that negotiations in Doha are progressing. “Gaps are narrowing”, he said. “It’s difficult to get there, but I believe it is still possible.”

The talks focused on the number of Palestinians to be exchanged for Israeli captives. Hamas is seeking the release of thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including many women and children detained without trial. Israel wants a temporary ceasefire until hostages are released after which it can resume its aggression against Gaza.

“Tel Aviv has refused to agree on a comprehensive ceasefire and the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza,” Hamas officials were quoted as saying.

The Israeli war on Gaza has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians and injured almost 75,000 since 7 October.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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