Egypt’s leader said Israel should be the one to take in Palestinians, rejecting any idea that his country could host Gazans displaced by the fighting between Israel and Hamas.
(Bloomberg) — Egypt’s leader said Israel should be the one to take in Palestinians, rejecting any idea that his country could host Gazans displaced by the fighting between Israel and Hamas.
His comments underscore Egypt’s rejection of housing any refugees from Gaza, which has been under bombardment since Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
“If there’s a plan for displacement, there’s the desert of Negev in Israel,” said Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. “They can transport Palestinians there until Israel implements its announced plan to destroy Hamas.”
Read More: Gazans Trying to Flee War Have Egypt Weighing Aid and Security
Egypt has emerged as a key player as the humanitarian situation worsens in Gaza, which is run by Hamas. More than 3,000 people have died in the enclave, while Israel has put it under a total blockade, cutting power and some water supplies.
Noone is allowed in or out. The US and other countries have tried to get some of their citizens to exit through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, and to ensure aid flows the other way. Egypt and Israel have blamed each other and Hamas for the crossing staying shut.
Read More: Gaza Pummeled as Aid Sits Within Earshot on Egypt Border
The impasse comes as a major hospital explosion in Gaza City on Tuesday night worsens regional tensions. Israel said militants from Islamic Jihad were responsible for the blast, which killed hundreds of people, because a missile they fired malfunctioned and landed on Gazan territory. Hamas, Egypt, other Arab states and Turkey have all blamed Israel.
US President Joe Biden is in Israel on Wednesday to support Israel and try to get food and fuel supplies sent into Gaza to help ease the humanitarian situation. He was meant to go to Jordan the same day for a conference with Arab states including Egypt, but they cancelled it after the hospital explosion.
Israel Attack Fears
Moving the Gazans south to Sinai could open the door for the peninsula to become a “base” for attacks against Israel, said El-Sisi. That may, in turn, open the door for potential Israeli responses to any attacks, he said at a press conference with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
The remarks were El-Sisi’s strongest yet regarding what Egypt sees as an Israeli plan to drive Palestinians into Sinai.
The Negev remark spoke to the frustration that the Egyptian leader, who’s is up for re-election in a December ballot he’s widely expected to win. While Egypt and Israel have a long-standing peace deal, Egypt’s people overwhelmingly side with the 2.3 million Gaza residents.
Sinai has long been a source of concern for Egypt’s national security. Israel captured it during the 1967 Six Day war, and Egypt reclaimed it in 1982, after the Camp David peace accords.
El-Sisi, after coming to power in 2014, waged a battle there against militants sympathetic to Islamic State. The idea of the territory becoming a home — even temporarily — for Palestinians is seen as a threat to Egypt’s security and as something that would end hopes for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
“What is happening in Gaza now is not just keenness on directing a military offensive against Hamas, it’s an attempt to push civilians to seek refuge and immigrate to Egypt,” El-Sisi said. “This is something we all don’t accept.”
Displacing Palestinians to Sinai “means moving the idea of the opposition, the idea of killing, from the Gaza Strip to Sinai,” El-Sisi said, breaking away from his prepared comments. “Sinai would become a base for operations against Israel and, in this case, it would be within Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Scholz said Germany and Egypt are “united in their goal of preventing a conflagration in the Middle East.”
He reiterated a warning to Iran, which backs Hamas, not to exploit the situation and urges its other regional proxies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, to attack Israel.
“Once again, I strongly warn Hezbollah and Iran not to intervene in this conflict,” he said, standing alongside the Egyptian leader. “They would be making a grave mistake.”
–With assistance from Michael Nienaber.
(Recasts and updates with additional quotes, background)
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