Avoiding escalation

Doaa El-Bey , Tuesday 17 Oct 2023

Egypt is engaged in intensive diplomacy to ease Palestinian suffering, writes Doaa El-Bey

Avoiding escalation
Avoiding escalation


In his meeting with the National Security Council this week, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi rejected Israeli attempts to displace the Palestinians or liquidate their cause at the expense of neighbouring countries. The council underlined that Egypt’s national security is a “red line” that cannot be crossed.

Egypt, said a diplomat, is not in principle against hosting Arab citizens whose countries are facing internal problems. Egypt already hosts people from Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and other countries. He added, however, that the situation in Gaza is different because “opening the Rafah crossing is likely to liquidate the Palestinian cause and shatter all attempts to create a Palestinian state.”

Last week, Israeli jets dropped thousands of leaflets into northern Gaza calling on residents to abandon their homes within 24 hours and travel to the south, which borders Egypt, ahead of a planned ground invasion.

Egypt described the order as an “escalatory step” and called on the Israeli government to rescind instructions which would have serious consequences for the humanitarian situation in the Strip. 

As Israel continued to threaten a ground operation in Gaza, thousands of people gathered at the Rafah border crossing. 

The US and other countries have been pushing to reopen the Rafah crossing to allow foreign nationals in Gaza to evacuate. Egypt, however, has refused to do so until Israel agrees to allow humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza.

US President Joe Biden is scheduled to head to Israel on Wednesday. He is also expected in Jordan where he will meet with President Al-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the White House said yesterday.

According to a White House statement, Biden is heading to Israel “to demonstrate his steadfast support for Israel in the face of Hamas’ brutal terrorist attack, consult on next steps… and discuss the humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza.”

The US and other countries are attempting to de-escalate the conflict. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has crisscrossed the region, from Israel to Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, before returning back to Israel. 

Early this week, Washington named retired ambassador David Satterfield as special coordinator for Middle East humanitarian issues. He will lead US attempts to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including attempts to move aid supplies to Gaza and promote the safety of civilians, in coordination with the UN.

Egypt is keen to open the Rafah crossing for humanitarian aid, with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri saying this week that there is a pressing need “to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza”. 

While Cairo’s main focus is on securing humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza, the diplomat said “there is also genuine concern about a massive influx of Palestinians into Egypt as they attempt to escape an Israeli ground offence.” 

The Rafah crossing cannot be used without coordination with Israel, and Israeli actions — there have been air strikes in the immediate vicinity of the crossing — are compounding the difficulties of opening Rafah for humanitarian aid.

Trucks are queuing at the border to deliver assistance to Gaza. A convoy of more than 100 vehicles carrying canned and dry food and water, medicine, and blankets sponsored by Egypt’s National Alliance for Civil Development Work (NACDW) is waiting to cross, while aid supplies from Turkey, the UAE, Jordan, and the World Health Organisation is waiting at Arish International Airport to be delivered to Gaza.

In an interview with CNN, Shoukri said the Palestinian side of the crossing is unable to receive aid vehicles because of repeated Israeli air strikes. 

Egypt continued intensive diplomacy this week in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict and end the targeting of civilians. Cairo’s intensive communications with multiple parties have underlined its role as a crisis communication hub between political Arab, regional and international players, says science professor Tarek Fahmi.

Cairo’s consultations are expected to lead to an international summit on Palestine in Sharm El-Sheikh.

In his meeting with France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna in Cairo this week, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi highlighted the urgent need to de-escalate the Israeli offensive in Gaza, halt deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Strip and reduce the threat to regional stability. The same concerns were reiterated during Al-Sisi’s calls with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store. 

Al-Sisi met with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan earlier this week. Following the meeting they issued a joint call to protect Gazans and pushed for greater international efforts to reinvigorate the defunct peace process.

During a meeting in Cairo this week with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock, Shoukri stressed the need for Israel to end its bombardment of Gaza and halt any plans for a ground offensive. He called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities, halt any escalation and push for a just and comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian cause. The same calls were reiterated during Shouki’s meeting with Fidan. 

Over the past two weeks, Israel has imposed a full blockade of the Gaza Strip, home to some 2.3 million Palestinians. It has rained air and artillery strikes on the Strip, killing more than 2,800 Palestinians, wounding thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 19 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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