Reports: Egypt, Fearing Incoming Palestinians, Refuses to Open Rafah Border Crossing

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on buildings near the …
AP Photo/Ramez Habboub

Egypt on Wednesday rejected a plan that the Israeli government presented to reopen the Rafah border crossing, which connects the Gaza Strip with the Sinai peninsula.

Israel reportedly dispatched two officers from its Shin Bet security service on Wednesday to present the proposal, which was reportedly tailored to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza from Egypt and people requiring medical assistance to pass in the opposite direction while acknowledging Israel’s security concerns.

The proposal also reportedly covered how the Rafah crossing would be controlled after Israel completes its military operation in Gaza and withdraws from the region. Egypt reportedly said the border crossing must remain entirely under Palestinian control, while the Israelis evidently suggested a more complex mechanism.

The Rafah border crossing was a flashpoint for international controversy long before Israel began its military operation against the city of Rafah, the final stronghold for Hamas terrorists in Gaza. The Egyptians have been nervous about a wave of Palestinian refugees pouring across the border, while the Israelis fear Hamas leaders could use the crossing to escape or bring in more weapons for their fighters. The United Nations has pleaded for the crossing to be open so humanitarian aid could flow into Gaza.

The tents of displaced Palestinians at al-Mawasi beside the border fence with Egypt on the outskirts of Rafah, Gaza, on May 9, 2024. (Ahmad Salem/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

At present, Egypt blames the Israelis for blocking access to the Rafah crossing with their military operation and accuses the Israelis of hoping to drive Palestinians out of Gaza entirely, dumping them into Egypt as refugees.

The Israelis blame Egypt for keeping the border closed and say their military operation should be no obstacle to using it for humanitarian assistance. Israeli officials expressed disappointment that Egypt rejected their latest proposal to reopen the border on Wednesday.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Tuesday that he asked the United Kingdom and Germany to “persuade” Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing.

“The world places the responsibility for the humanitarian situation on Israel, but the key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends,” he said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry irritably responded that Israel is “solely responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe currently endured by the Palestinians in Gaza” as a result of “indiscriminate Israeli atrocities committed against the Palestinians for more than seven months.”

Shoukry said Israel has a “legal responsibility as the occupying power by allowing aid access through the land ports that are under its control,” but he did not explain why Egypt rejected an Israeli proposal to do exactly that.

Shoukry’s response suggests Palestinian politics are in play, as Egypt simply cannot be seen as cooperating with the Israelis during this stage of the Gaza military operation.

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Egypt said on Sunday that it will support South Africa’s case of genocide against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a clear sign of deteriorating relations. According to Al Jazeera News on Thursday, Egypt viewed Israel’s insistence on continuing the Rafah operation as “disrespectful,” and joining the ICJ genocide case was a means of signaling Cairo’s exasperation.

“This isn’t just about pressuring Israel. It’s also about pressuring the U.S. to use its leverage towards Israel,” Egypt scholar and former Texas A&M professor Erin A. Snyder told Al Jazeera.

The Biden White House seemed to be caught flat-footed by Egypt’s refusal to reopen the Rafah crossing. When a reporter asked for the White House’s response to the refusal, a clearly flummoxed Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre could articulate no reason why the Egyptians would refuse to allow humanitarian assistance into Gaza.


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