Egypt said to warn Israel ties could ‘rupture’ if Gaza multitudes flee to Sinai

Officials quoted by Axios say Cairo has cautioned US, Israel not to push Palestinian refugees into Egypt; other reports claim forcing population south is part of Hamas plan

An aerial picture shows displaced Palestinians who fled Khan Yunis setting up camp in Rafah further south near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, on December 7, 2023 (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
An aerial picture shows displaced Palestinians who fled Khan Yunis setting up camp in Rafah further south near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, on December 7, 2023 (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

Egypt has warned Israel and the US not to allow a situation in which displaced Palestinians flee from the Gaza Strip into the Sinai Peninsula, according to Israeli and American officials quoted by the Axios news site.

Such an exodus could cause a “rupture” in Egypt-Israel relations, Cairo was said to warn.

According to UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians, some 85 percent of the Gaza population, almost two million people, has been displaced since war broke out following Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

Egypt’s concern, according to the Axios report, is that as the IDF operation expands to the south of the Strip, Israel will “push Palestinians from Gaza to Egypt — and not allow them to return after the war.”

Earlier this month, Channel 12 and Kan news both reported that Hamas was seeking to stir up tensions between Israel and Egypt by forcing displaced Gazans south towards the Rafah border crossing, to put pressure on Cairo to call for a ceasefire.

The Israeli reports reiterated that Jerusalem has no intention of forcing Gazan refugees across the border to Egypt.

Some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from Gaza by land, air and sea on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

In response, Israel launched a military campaign aiming to destroy the terror group’s military and governance capabilities and to secure the return of the hostages. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says that more than 17,000 people have been killed so far in the offensive. The figures cannot be verified, but the total number is largely in line with an assessment by Israel, which said it believes more than 5,000 of those killed are Hamas operatives.

Egypt opened the Rafah crossing in late October to allow wounded Palestinians to be treated in Egyptian hospitals in Sinai, with Israeli reassurances that they would be allowed to return to the enclave. Some 7,000 foreigners and dual nationals from Gaza were also allowed to exit the Strip via Rafah in early November.

Palestinians stand in line to get water in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 13, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The reports came as IDF said troops continued to advance in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis and the Jabaliya camp in the north of the Strip, and the Air Force carried out strikes on hundreds of Hamas targets.

In a Thursday phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Joe Biden “emphasized the critical need to protect civilians and to separate the civilian population from Hamas,” the White House said in a statement.

Biden also called for “corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities.”

The large number of civilian casualties in the conflict has sparked global concern, heightened by shortages caused by Israeli restrictions that have seen only limited access to food, water, fuel and medicines.

Some residents have accused Hamas of stealing the aid that does arrive. Israel also maintains that Hamas is stockpiling supplies and keeping them from an increasingly desperate civilian population.

AFP contributed to this report.

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