Egypt warns it may withdraw from Gaza war mediation over ‘attempts to doubt’ its role

Threat comes after officials say Cairo mishandled the latest round of hostages-for-truce talks and as it is being blamed by Israel, US for withholding aid from Strip

Two women walk on an asphalt road in the middle of a deserted camp for displaced Palestinians on the border with Egypt in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 22, 2024. (Eyad Baba/AFP)
Two women walk on an asphalt road in the middle of a deserted camp for displaced Palestinians on the border with Egypt in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 22, 2024. (Eyad Baba/AFP)

Egypt threatened on Wednesday to withdraw as a mediator in Gaza hostage-for-truce negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

“Attempts to cast doubt and offend Egypt’s mediation efforts… will only lead to further complications of the situation in Gaza and the entire region and may push Egypt to completely withdraw from its mediation in the current conflict,” Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt’s State Information Service, said in a statement published on social media.

Rashwan said that Cairo’s participation as a mediator resulted from “repeated requests and insistence” from Israel and the US. Egypt said some “parties” recently directed blame toward Egyptian and Qatari mediators and accused them of being biased, he added.

The comments followed a CNN report confirming what two officials told The Times of Israel last week — that Egypt mishandled the latest round of hostage talks, contributing to their collapse.

According to the two officials, Cairo presented separate proposals to Israel and Hamas. The one discussed with Israel was closer to Jerusalem’s stance, leaving a window for it to continue the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught after the truce and hostage deal was implemented. Meanwhile, the one presented with Hamas was closer to its demand for the initial truce to be turned permanent.

The officials said this strategy was not coordinated with the other mediators and that it particularly angered CIA director Bill Burns, who has been one of the main brokers.

File – CIA chief William Burns, Egyptian intel chief Abbas Kamel, Mossad chief David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. (Collage/AP/AFP)

Wednesday’s threat from Egypt was similar to the one issued by Qatar last month, when its prime minister announced a review of its mediator role, in light of criticism from Israel. That review has not led to Doha withdrawing from the talks, and it appeared unlikely that Cairo will take such a step either.

Egypt has also come under fire from the US for what Washington says is its withholding of aid for Gaza.

Earlier Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Egypt to do everything it can to make sure humanitarian aid is flowing into Gaza.

Blinken told a hearing in the House of Representatives that fighting near the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza, which Israel seized earlier this month, has made the environment for providing assistance challenging. The military says Hamas has used the crossing for terror purposes. It is widely believed arms and other banned items are smuggled into the Strip from Egypt.

Egyptian security sources say Egypt opposes Israel’s presence at the crossing and wants it to withdraw.

“So we need to find a way to make sure that the assistance that would go through Rafah can get through safely, but we do strongly urge our Egyptian partners to do everything that they can on their end of things to make sure that assistance is flowing,” Blinken said.

The matter was also raised during a phone call Wednesday between Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, with a statement from the former’s office saying he “encouraged the Israeli government to conclude talks with Egypt to reopen Rafah crossing and resume the flow of aid from Egypt through Kerem Shalom.”

The US readout said Austin also told Gallant of the need for an “effective mechanism” to coordinate humanitarian and military operations in Gaza.

Troops of the Nahal Brigade operate in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in a handout image published May 22, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Tuesday, a senior US official briefing reporters offered very rare criticism of Egypt over what they said was Cairo’s withholding of UN humanitarian assistance from Gaza.

“What should be going into Kerem Shalom is the UN assistance, which is now in Egypt. Egypt is holding that back until the Rafah crossing situation settles out,” the senior administration official said.

“We do not believe that aid should be held back for any reason whatsoever. Kerem Shalom is open. The Israelis have it open. And that aid should be going through Kerem Shalom,” the official added.

Israel has been more explicit in blaming Cairo, with Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday that the hold-up was Egypt’s fault.

“Right now, Egypt is withholding 2,000 trucks of humanitarian assistance from going into Gaza because they have a political issue about the Rafah crossing,” Dermer said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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