Gallant, Austin discuss IDF's takeover of Gaza-Egypt border

Israel, Egypt said moving toward reopening Rafah Crossing amid US pressure

Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas said slated to temporarily run crossing while IDF withdraws from gate; second report says US planning trilateral meeting on border issues

Israeli forces operating on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/AFP)
Israeli forces operating on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/AFP)

Israel and Egypt have reached an agreement in principle to reopen the Rafah Border Crossing in southern Gaza to humanitarian aid for the first time since the Israel Defense Forces took control of the Gazan side of the crossing in early May, a Hebrew media report said Thursday.

The agreement was reached as a result of US pressure on both sides, the unsourced report by the Kan public broadcaster added.

The crossing has been closed since the IDF gained control of its Gazan side on May 7, as Egypt said it would refuse to reopen it until it was back under Palestinian control, in order to avoid being seen as complicit with Israel’s military operation in the southernmost Gaza city. On Sunday, Egypt resumed aid deliveries via the Kerem Shalom Crossing on the tri-border area between Israel, Gaza and Egypt.

According to Kan, Israel agreed to remove its troops from the crossing to allow for it to be reopened and has attempted to find an international body to take responsibility for it instead.

However, as a body has not yet been found, Israel has reportedly agreed to temporarily allow the border crossing to be controlled by Palestinians in Gaza who have been proven to have no ties to Hamas or other terror groups.

No date was provided for when the crossing will be reopened.

An Axios report earlier in the day said Israel had presented Cairo with its plan to redeploy its forces outside the crossing to defend it, while representatives from the United Nations and Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas in Gaza would operate it.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid are pictured at the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on May 28, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The US aims to hold a trilateral meeting with Egyptian and Israeli security officials in Cairo next week on issues surrounding the Gaza-Egypt border and the Rafah Crossing, according to the report, which cited three unnamed US and Israeli officials.

The US delegation will reportedly be led by the senior director for the Middle East at the White House National Security Council, Terry Wolff.

In addition to solving issues regarding the Rafah Crossing, the meeting will also focus on ensuring that Hamas can no longer smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the report said. US officials said an underground wall to block tunnels, similar to one built on the Israel-Gaza border, would be discussed in the meeting.

“An initial interagency delegation will travel to Egypt to follow up on the call between [US] President [Joe] Biden and [Egyptian] President [Abdel Fattah el-] Sissi for further discussions on the Rafah Border Crossing and border security,” a senior US official said, referencing a call held on Friday between the two leaders, and adding that a senior-level delegation would continue the talks later on.

Maintaining the tenuous peace between Israel and Egypt is a top priority for Biden, the Axios report said, as his administration sees Egypt as a key player in any plans for post-war Gaza.

Egypt itself has worked for years to thwart the cross-border tunnel network, blowing them up, flooding them with water, pumping toxic gas inside, and even razing homes along the border to establish a buffer zone. However, many are still believed to remain.

The IDF announced Wednesday that it had taken control over the Philadelphi Route, the key Gaza-Egypt border corridor, saying it had uncovered at least 20 cross-border smuggling tunnels, In response, the Egyptian state-affiliated Al-Qahera News TV quoted a “high-level” source saying that there was “no truth” to the reports of tunnels between Egypt and Gaza.

Israeli army battle tanks operate in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 29, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant briefed US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a call Wednesday night on the IDF’s successful operation to take over the Philadelphi Route, their offices said.

The Pentagon said Austin stressed the “need to sustain increased deliveries of humanitarian assistance” and reopen the Rafah Crossing.

“Our humanitarian partners working in Gaza tell us that conditions are worse now than ever before. Israeli military operations and closed crossings are making it extremely difficult to distribute aid,” US Agency for International Development chief Samantha Power wrote on X on Wednesday night.

In an Israeli readout of the Gallant-Austin call, Gallant’s office said the defense minister had stressed to Austin Israel’s opposition to the crossing being run by Hamas or any officials linked to terror groups.

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