CAIRO (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the Egyptian-controlled border crossing into Gaza would reopen and the U.S. was working with Egypt, Israel and the United Nations to get assistance through it.
Hundreds of tonnes of aid from several countries have been waiting in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula for days pending a deal for its safe delivery to Gaza and the evacuation of some foreign passport holders through the Rafah crossing.
Egypt said it had stepped up diplomatic efforts to break the impasse.
“We have put in place, Egypt has put in place a lot of material support for people in Gaza, and Rafah will be reopened,” Blinken told reporters in Cairo after what he said was a “very good conversation” with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“We are putting into place — with the United Nations, with Egypt, with Israel, with others — the mechanism by which to get the assistance in and to get it to the people who need it,” he added.
On Sunday, the United States appointed veteran diplomat David Satterfield as Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues to lead the US response to the Gaza humanitarian crisis.
Sisi told Blinken, who is on a Mideast tour, that Israel had responded disproportionately by launching its heaviest ever strikes in retaliation for a devastating incursion by Hamas on Oct. 7.
“The reaction went beyond the right to self-defence, turning into collective punishment for 2.3 million people in Gaza,” Sisi said in a joint appearance.
He added that cooperation was necessary to fight extremism, but also that Jews had in the past lived freely in the Middle East.
“Perhaps targeting has happened in Europe … in other countries, but in our Arab and Islamic countries this did not happen,” he said.
Israeli bombardments on the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing into Egypt, the main crossing out of Gaza not controlled by Israel, have hindered its operability, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told CNN on Saturday.
The US told its citizens in Gaza on Saturday they should move closer to the crossing in case it opened.
Shoukry added that if foreign nationals were able to cross the border, Egypt would help them travel home.
An earlier Sunday statement from Sisi’s office, issued after a meeting of the national security council, said Egypt rejected any plan to displace Palestinians to the detriment of other countries and that Egypt’s own security was a red line.
Like other Arab states, it has said Palestinians should stay on their lands and that it is working to deliver aid.
Sisi also proposed hosting a summit to discuss the crisis, according to the statement.
Eight planes laden with aid from Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Tunisia, and the World Health Organization have landed in Sinai’s Al Arish airport in recent days and a convoy of more than 100 trucks is waiting in the city for permission to enter Gaza, according to the Egyptian Red Crescent.
(Reporting by Mohamed Waly, Omar Abdel Razek, Yusri Mohamed, Humeyra Pamuk, Hatem Maher, and Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Adam Makary, Nafisa Eltahir and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Louise Heavens, Hugh Lawson, Andrew Cawthorne and Giles Elgood)