Horror upon horror

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 29 May 2024

With millions of Palestinians facing renewed displacement, Dina Ezzat examines the impact of Monday’s cross-border fire between Israeli and Egyptian security personnel and the latest Israeli massacre of Palestinian civilians.

photo: AFP
A mother finds it hard to part with the body of her child following Israel s bombardment of Rafah on Sunday. The most recent episode in Israeli army s genocidal war may not have claimed as many lives as previous episodes, but it has proved unprecedently barbaric (photo: AFP)


Egypt and Israel are determined to contain the fallout from Monday’s shoot-out between Egyptian and Israeli security personnel on the Rafah border, two informed Egyptian sources told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Speaking independently, both stressed that Cairo is determined not to be dragged into any form of escalation.

“We do have a problem with the way Israel has been handling its military operation in Rafah and there will be time to deal with this, though not at the moment,” said one.

The source spoke hours after the Egyptian army spokesman issued a statement announcing the killing of an Egyptian security personnel on the border at Rafah following a shootout with Israeli personnel who have taken over the city as part of Israel’s war on Gaza. Following the tone and wording of the statement, the source avoided any inflammatory rhetoric.

Both sources said that Egypt and Israel are conducting investigations to get to the bottom of what happened. Neither would commit to when the results of the investigations would be made public. “Certainly not immediately, given the sensitive nature of the moment,” said one.

The shootout came hours after Israeli air strikes hit a camp designated as a safe area for displaced Palestinians, killing dozens, many of them women and children, who were dismembered or burned alive in the attack. The horrifying massacre, qualified as “a tragic mishap” by Israel, was followed by continued Israeli bombardment on Tuesday as helpless Palestinian civilians attempted to flee.

An emergency UN Security Council meeting was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, East Coast Time, to discuss Monday’s assault. A diplomatic source in New York said that Israel should expect “a firmly worded statement” amounting to a call for an immediate end to the war. It was, added the source, “unlikely” that the US would act to obstruct the statement though “obviously it will not agree to a straight-forward order for Israel to end its operations.”

On Monday, many countries, including Spain, Ireland, and Norway which this week announced that they would recognise a Palestinian state, condemned the slaughter of Palestinian civilians. Similar statements came from the UN and other international organisations. Israel shrugged off the condemnations and the diplomatic moves.

Cairo-based European and Egyptian diplomatic sources say that while the international diplomatic moves and the legal positions adopted by both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court will annoy Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they are unlikely to bring an end to the war.

According to a European diplomat who spoke on Tuesday morning, not even US pressure will persuade Netanyahu to stop the “brutal killings of Palestinian women and children”.

“Israel had promised the US and European countries, as well as Egypt, that there will be no massacres in Rafah. It did not honour this promise as we have all seen,” she said.

According to the two Egyptian sources, Egypt’s current focus is on ending any repeat of the Rafah massacre.

“We need to see an end to the war in Gaza soon. This is the best way to contain the crises that have been unfolding since this war started and to avoid additional crises,” said one. He added that the war will not end before two things happen: a hostage deal that sees all the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas on 7 October returned, including the bodies of the dead, and agreement on a post-war deal that provides for a long and sustainable ceasefire and arrangements for the management and reconstruction of Gaza that are acceptable to Hamas.

The same Egyptian sources noted that prior to the Monday massacre and subsequent border shootout, Cairo and Doha had been scheduled to host mediation meetings this week. Given the latest developments the meetings have been postponed, and while no new dates have been agreed both sources say they will go ahead sooner rather than later.

The bottom line of the deal being developed by the US, Egypt, and Israel is to secure the return of all hostages alongside a ceasefire. According to the first source, while “there are ways to secure these goals via a series of steps acceptable to both sides,” the worry is that Netanyahu could opt to torpedo any deal.

Neither Egyptian source was willing to expound on recent Israeli allegations that Egypt had mishandled the drafts of an earlier deal accepted by Hamas but then rejected by Israel. Both said that the drafts were a work in progress. In the words of one: “What was shared with Hamas was a set of principles previously agreed with Israel. It would have been possible to amend some of the text if Israel had been serious or the US in a place to put enough pressure on Israel.”

He added that “Netanyahu cannot get his war cabinet to agree on whether or not to continue fighting or whether or not to keep an Israeli military presence in Gaza” and “this is what is making the negotiations and the drafting of a deal so difficult.”

Both sources say that unlike Israel, Hamas has come to a decision to end the war, though they qualify that in the eyes of Hamas an end means a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and a ceasefire with American guarantees lasting for at least five years. Both also agree that Netanyahu will need to secure political consensus on his next move and until that happens Israeli troops will continue the remorseless offensive.

According to Mohamed Ibrahim, a former Egyptian security official and political commentator, “it is important to remember that the Israelis are still fighting in north Gaza and, after three full weeks of operations in the south are expanding their presence in Rafah.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the Israeli press reported that Israeli tanks were advancing into the centre of the city. Meanwhile, the Egyptian sources said that Cairo is keeping a very close eye on the borders where further “Israeli military action” is likely. They added that talks between Egyptian and Israeli officials to avoid any further cross border fire shootouts were ongoing.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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