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Egypt warns Israel of ‘dire repercussions’ over Rafah operation in Gaza

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the New Administrative Capital (NAC), east of Cairo, Egypt, January 9.

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Egypt may consider downgrading relations with Israel if it pursues a military operation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, on the Egyptian border, an Egyptian official told CNN.

“Everything is possible and is on the table, including the deterioration of relationships. But we are not there yet. We are talking with the Israelis, trying to explain and reach a consensus,” the official said.

The official said coordination between the two countries on the Rafah operation, which Egypt publicly opposed, “did not go well.” And that is why we warned Israel of the dire consequences. »

CNN has contacted the Israeli Foreign Ministry for comment.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that Egypt was considering reducing ties with Israel.

The two countries were at odds this week after Israel launched a limited military operation in Rafah last week and seized the Palestinian side of the border with Egypt. Egypt subsequently refused to coordinate aid deliveries to Gaza with Israel. The official told CNN earlier that aid deliveries to Palestinians could be interrupted because Egypt cannot guarantee the safety of its trucks, as they could be attacked by Palestinian militants targeting Israeli troops.

The two countries’ top diplomats shared responsibility for the closure of the Rafah crossing as aid deliveries through the key land terminal were halted.

Rafah was the entry point for nearly a quarter of relief supplies entering the Gaza Strip before the Israeli operation. On Tuesday, the US State Department warned that only 50 humanitarian aid trucks arrived in Gaza on Sunday, compared to hundreds per day in previous weeks, adding that the number was “far from enough”.

Israel blamed Egypt for the closure of the terminal. In a statement aboutIsraeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Tuesday that he had spoken to British Foreign Minister David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock “about the need to persuade Egypt to reopen the crossing Rafah to allow the continued delivery of international humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

AFP/Getty Images

Boys watch smoke billowing from Israeli strikes east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday.

The Israeli minister’s comments sparked a reaction from Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who dismissed Katz’s statement as a “policy of distortion of facts.”

Shoukry declared Egypt’s “categorical rejection of the policy of distortion of facts and disavowal of responsibility followed by the Israeli side,” adding that Katz’s remarks are “desperate attempts by Israel to hold Egypt for responsible for the unprecedented humanitarian crisis facing the Gaza Strip.

The crisis, Shoukry said, “is a direct result of indiscriminate Israeli attacks against Palestinians for more than seven months.”

Israel has said it will never let Hamas take control of the border crossing. The Egyptian official told CNN that Egypt also does not want Hamas to take control, but that Israeli control is also unacceptable.

“It must be in the hands of the Palestinians,” the official said, adding that the crossing could be placed under the control of the Palestinian civil defense. “It is neither Hamas nor Fatah (a rival party to Hamas).”

Adding to the tensions are Israeli military movements that have seen the Jewish state’s tanks and soldiers operating on Egypt’s gates, sparking outrage in Egyptian media over alleged violations of the 1979 peace treaty signed between the two countries.

Israeli troops entered an area that was demilitarized in that treaty four decades ago – including parts of a border area known as the Philadelphia Corridor, where the Rafah crossing is located. Videos released by the Israeli military last week showed Israeli flags raised on the Palestinian side of the border.

The Philadelphia Corridor is a strip of land 14 kilometers long (about 8.7 miles) and 100 meters wide along the Gaza-Egypt border. The corridor is key to the 1979 treaty, a pact that saw Egypt and Israel end their enmity and which limited the number of troops each side can deploy near the other’s territory.

Changes to the security presence in the area must be made by mutual agreement. Over the years, amendments to the security agreements between Egypt and Israel have allowed Cairo to strengthen its security presence in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel.

Abdel Karim Hana/AP

Palestinians displaced by the Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip walk through a makeshift tent camp in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, in Gaza City on May 10.

Israel has not revealed the extent of its military presence in Rafah. But under the 1979 peace treaty, drafted before Israel unilaterally withdrew its troops from Gaza in 2005, Israel is allowed to deploy a limited force of four infantry battalions in Area D – where the Philadelphia Corridor is located. .

These battalions can include up to 180 armored vehicles and a total of four thousand men. The presence of tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft missiles, with the exception of individual surface-to-air missiles, is not permitted, the treaty specifies.

It is unclear how many troops Israel now has stationed across the border in Rafah. Asked by CNN about the scale of its military operation in the city and whether it was coordinated with the Egyptians, the Israeli army refused to comment.

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