Egyptian president accuses Israel of evading ceasefire efforts amid deepening rift

At Arab League Summit, Sissi blames Jerusalem for the holdup of humanitarian aid at the Rafah Crossing, reiterates Egypt’s support for PA President Abbas

This handout picture from the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) shows Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (C) being received in Manama on May 15, 2024 ahead of the 33rd Arab League Summit. (BNA (Bahrain News Agency) / AFP)
This handout picture from the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) shows Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (C) being received in Manama on May 15, 2024 ahead of the 33rd Arab League Summit. (BNA (Bahrain News Agency) / AFP)

Israel is evading efforts to reach a ceasefire in its war with Hamas in Gaza, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi charged Thursday amid friction between Cairo and Jerusalem over an offensive in the Gaza border city of Rafah.

In a speech to Arab leaders largely focused on Gaza at the 33rd Arab League Summit in Manama, Sissi accused Israel of engaging in “evasive actions to shirk its responsibilities and in devious maneuvering around efforts to achieve a ceasefire.”

Sissi, whose country has mediated efforts to reach a truce and hostage release deal throughout the war, did not mention any specific instances of “devious maneuvering” allegedly carried out by Israel.

He said that Egypt is “unequivocally committed to its steadfast position…in rejecting the liquidation of the Palestinian cause, the forced displacement or compulsory migration of the Palestinians, as well as the creation of conditions rendering Gaza uninhabitable, with the aim of evacuating the land of Palestine from its people.”

All parties must make a choice, Sissi said elsewhere in his address, between “the path of peace, stability and hope, or the one of chaos and destruction, which is fueled by the persistent military escalation in the Gaza Strip.”

In recent days, tensions have flared after the IDF seized control of the Gazan side of the Rafah Crossing with Egypt, a major conduit for humanitarian aid into the enclave. Since then, Egypt has ended coordination for aid trucks to pass from its territory into Gaza, insisting that the other side of the crossing be under Palestinian control before it resumes deliveries.

Israel and Egypt have traded blame for the responsibility of the crossing’s closure. Israel said on Tuesday that it was up to Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing and allow humanitarian relief into the Gaza Strip, prompting Cairo to denounce what it described as “desperate attempts” to shift blame for the blockage of aid.

Deepening the accusations, Sissi accused Israel during his Manama address of being “defiantly adamant about its widely condemned military operation in Rafah and [seeking] to leverage the Rafah crossing, from the Palestinian side, to solidify its siege on the Gaza Strip.”

Israel has said that its offensive in Rafah is necessary for achieving the goals of the war, and has resisted international pressure to avoid operating in the city, whose population swelled to over one million people as Gazans fled south throughout the months of war.

Israel believes that four of Hamas’s six remaining battalions are located in Rafah, along with senior Hamas leadership and many of the hostages.

Speaking to troops on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli offensive was “critical” for the war effort.

IDF troops and tanks on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Egypt, along with Qatar and the US, has been mediating indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas during the war, which started on October 7 when the Palestinian terror group led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and abducted 252 people as hostages to Gaza.

The most recent round of negotiations saw Israel agree to a proposal that was put to Hamas. The terror group claimed to also agree, but responded with heavily altered terms that Israel had not authorized.

Earlier this week, the Haaretz daily newspaper reported that senior Israeli officials fear Egypt may give up its mediator role should the current crisis continue.

“The current situation vis-a-vis Egypt is the worst it has been since the war began,” one unnamed official was quoted as saying at the time.

Appearing to dismiss these concerns, Sissi said on Thursday that “despite the current gloomy picture,  Egypt still clings to the hope that the voices of reason, justice and truth will ultimately prevail, saving the region from endless waves of wars and bloodshed.”

“All future generations of Palestinians and Israelis deserve to live in a region where justice thrives, peace prevails and security reigns,” he said in his closing remarks. “They are entitled to live in a region where the hopes of the future sublimate the pain of the past.”

This handout picture from the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) shows Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) being received in Manama on May 15, 2024 ahead of the 33rd Arab League Summit. (BNA (Bahrain News Agency) / AFP)

Sissi also met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the sidelines of the conference, and reiterated Egypt’s support for the PA’s leadership, and its efforts to “push the international community to assume its responsibilities in confronting the Israeli aggression in Gaza.”

Abbas in response, told Sissi that the PA will continue to coordinate with Egypt to “restore peace and security in the Palestinian territories,” according to a readout of the meeting from the Egyptian president’s office.

While the US and other international allies have floated the possibility of a reformed Palestinian Authority returning to Gaza to assist in its governance after Hamas is defeated, members of the Israeli government — including Netanyahu — have been vehemently opposed to the possibility, sometimes equating the PA with Hamas.

Earlier this week, however, a US official told the Times of Israel that Israel had tried to convince the PA to help manage the Gaza side of the Rafah Crossing in what was the first instance of Israel quietly proposing having some PA involvement in Gaza.

The overture was rebuffed by Ramallah, however, and a Palestinian official told Sky News that it would only agree to take control in Rafah if Israel agreed to the plan being crafted by Arab allies to eventually establish a Palestinian state.

Jacob Magid and Reuters contributed to this report.

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