Egypt says peace treaty with Israel safe despite jitters over Rafah offensive

Foreign minister Shoukry appears to rebuff reports that Cairo could suspend agreement if IDF pushes into southern Gaza city, risking influx into Sinai

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (left) shakes hands with his Slovenian counterpart Tanja Fajon in Ljubljana, Slovenia, February 12, 2024. (Egyptian Foreign Ministry)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (left) shakes hands with his Slovenian counterpart Tanja Fajon in Ljubljana, Slovenia, February 12, 2024. (Egyptian Foreign Ministry)

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Monday that Cairo is committed to upholding its peace treaty with Israel, amid reports in recent days that the agreement may be in jeopardy if the military proceeds with an offensive on the Gazan city of Rafah, abutting the border with Egypt.

Cairo has expressed worries that an Israeli push into Rafah, which has swelled with Gazans displaced from parts of the Strip, could create a crush of refugees pushing into the Sinai desert and exacerbate a humanitarian crisis in the Strip.

Cairo’s top diplomat was asked about the potential impacts of such an assault on his country’s relations with Israel by a reporter .

“There is a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, which has been in effect for the past 40 years and will continue to be. We are actively dealing with this matter at this stage,” Shoukry said, during a trip to Ljubljana, according to quotes carried by Sky News Arabic.

The comments came days after The Wall Street Journal reported that Egyptian officials warned the decades-long peace treaty between Egypt and Israel could be suspended if Israel Defense Forces’ troops enter Rafah, or if any of Rafah’s refugees are forced southward into the Sinai Peninsula.

Over half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has fled to Rafah to escape the fighting in other areas, packed into sprawling tent camps and United Nation-run shelters near the border. Egypt fears a mass influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and claims those who leave may never be allowed to return.

Channel 12 news reported Sunday evening that senior officials from the Mossad spy agency, the Shin Bet security agency, and the IDF had been in contact with their Egyptian counterparts to allay their concerns after Prime Minister Benjamin said sending troops into Rafah was necessary to win the four-month war against Hamas.

The Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip, on January 29, 2024. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

Netanyahu also said that the military would ensure the city was evacuated before launching the offensive.

“We will continue our efforts with both parties to reach an agreement that leads to the release of hostages and prisoners and ensuring the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip,” Shoukry said Monday, referencing ongoing efforts, along with Qatar and the US, to forge a truce deal between Israel and Hamas.

Egypt has reportedly warned Hamas that it must reach a hostage-for-ceasefire deal with Israel within two weeks, or Israel would move into Rafah.

Shoukry also slammed Israel’s conduct in the war and reiterated Egypt’s opposition to the potential displacement of Palestinians into the Sinai peninsula in the event of an operation in Rafah. He added that the only solution to the conflict was a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders.

On Sunday evening, Hebrew media outlets reported that IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi told the cabinet that he had already approved an operation in Rafah three times and that the military was prepared to carry it out whenever it received the green light from the government.

Channel 12 also reported, without citing sources, that the IDF would prefer that Gazan civilians currently sheltering in Rafah only be allowed to move to the north of the Strip as part of a hostage release deal. If not, according to the report, the military has other ways to operate in Rafah, though none were specified.

In an effort to forestall a massive influx of refugees, Egypt has, over the past two weeks, stationed some 40 tanks near its border with Gaza, after reinforcing the border wall since the beginning of hostilities, both structurally and with surveillance equipment, according to Reuters.

War erupted in Gaza with Hamas’s October 7 massacres, which saw thousands of terrorists burst across the border by air, land and sea, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping 253 to Gaza, mostly civilians. In response, Israel launched an extensive military campaign aimed at eliminating the terrorist organization and returning the hostages, two of whom were rescued in a military operation in Rafah early Monday.

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