Meeting on Sunday with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said that Israel’s activity in Gaza had “exceeded” its right to self-defense and had become collective punishment.
Sissi, whose country shares a narrow border with the Gaza Strip that has remained largely blocked over the past week, said during the meeting that Israel’s “reaction went beyond the right to self-defense, turning into collective punishment for 2.3 million people in Gaza,” according to Egypt’s state-run media.
Blinken, who visited Israel on Thursday before heading to Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, was slated to return to Israel on Monday for further meetings as part of his diplomatic blitz surrounding the Israel-Gaza war.
Sissi also used his meeting with Blinken to falsely claim that Egypt never persecuted its now no longer existent Jewish minority.
“You said that you are a Jewish person,” Sissi said to Blinken in remarks in front of reporters. “I am an Egyptian person who grew up next to Jews in Egypt. They have never been subjected to any form of oppression or targeting and it has never happened in our region that Jews were targeted.”
Egypt’s Jewish community, which dates back millennia, numbered around 80,000 in the 1940s, but today stands at fewer than 20 people. The departure of Egypt’s Jews was fueled by rising nationalist sentiment after Israel’s founding in 1948 and during the Arab-Israeli wars, harassment, and some direct expulsions by then-Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The US State Department readout on the Blinken-Sissi meeting said the two “agreed on the importance of addressing the humanitarian situation in Gaza to ensure assistance can reach people who need it and help keep civilians out of harm’s way.”
Blinken also stressed the US focus on preventing the conflict from spreading and facilitating the safe passage of American citizens and their family members from Gaza.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the US has been unable so far to get American citizens out of Gaza through Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza.
“It has been difficult to execute that operation to facilitate their passage out… It’s a high priority,” he said, acknowledging that “I’m not aware of anyone else being able to get out at this time.”
Egypt also said Sunday that it was planning to host a summit on “the future of the Palestinian cause.” Sissi held a national security council meeting on Sunday on the “military escalation in Gaza,” according to his spokesman.
His administration has pushed for diplomatic efforts with allies and humanitarian groups to “deescalate” the conflict and “deliver the required aid” — much of which has been piling up in Egypt awaiting the ability to cross into Gaza.
The Egyptian council meeting on Sunday echoed Sissi’s earlier statements “rejecting and denouncing policies of displacement or attempts to eradicate the Palestinian cause at the expense of neighboring countries.”
In the eight days since Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,300 Israelis in a surprise onslaught, Israel has responded with an intense bombing campaign that has claimed over 2,300 lives in Gaza, which it says is aimed at destroying the Hamas leadership and entire military infrastructure.
The vast majority of those killed as the Hamas gunmen seized Israeli border communities on October 7 were civilians — men, women, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what US President Joe Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”
Israel has warned more than one million northern Gaza residents to flee to the south of the territory ahead of expected ground battles focused in and around Gaza City. Several hundred thousand have reportedly done so.
Cairo, historically a key intermediary between Israel and Hamas, faces mounting pressure to allow fleeing Palestinians to enter Egypt.
In a televised interview with Al Jazeera, Israel’s former deputy foreign minister and ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon said Cairo “will have to play ball” and allow “temporary” settlement in the “almost endless space” in Sinai, a vast desert region.
Ayalon said Israel and the international community could prepare infrastructure, including “tent cities,” to receive the refugees, an idea Cairo strongly rejects. The resettlement of large numbers of Gazans in Egypt is unpopular in the North African nation, which is concerned about both the security and economic implications of such a move.
“Egypt’s national security is a red line and there will be no complacency in protecting it,” Cairo’s national security council said Sunday.