Dec 7, 2023 - World

Scoop: Egypt warned Israel of "a rupture" in relations if Palestinians flee to Sinai

Palestinians in central and northern parts of the Gaza migrate to the southern parts of Gaza, passing through Israeli soldiers and tanks on Nov. 19. Photo: Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu via Getty Images

Egypt warned the U.S. and Israel that if Palestinian refugees flee into the Sinai as a result of the Israeli military operation in southern Gaza, it could create "a rupture" in relations between Egypt and Israel, according to four U.S. and Israeli officials.

Why it matters: The close relations between Egypt and Israel, especially between the military and intelligence services, have been critically important at several points in the war, including around the release of hostages.

  • Egypt sees the war in Gaza as a threat to its national security and wants to prevent Palestinian refugees from crossing the border into its territory.
  • As of 3 December, according to UNRWA, almost 1.9 million people in Gaza, or nearly 85 per cent of the population, were estimated to be internally displaced.
  • Nearly 1.9 million Palestinians or roughly 85% of the population have already been displaced inside Gaza as of Dec. 3, according to the United Nations. At least 17,700 Palestinians — mostly women and children — have been killed, per the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.

Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have been concerned since the early days of the war that Israel would push Palestinians from Gaza to Egypt — and not allow them to return after the war.

  • Israeli officials denied this both in private and in public and gave assurances to Egypt that any wounded Palestinian permitted to leave Gaza for medical treatment would be allowed to return to the enclave.

Driving the news: Earlier this week, the Israeli military expanded its military operation into the southern Gaza strip, focusing on the city of Khan Younis where Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) believe Hamas leaders are hiding.

  • Since the fighting in Khan Younis started many Palestinian civilians have fled to the city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.

On Thursday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the Aspen Security forum in Washington, D.C. said it would be "inappropriate and in contradiction of international law" if Palestinian civilians from Gaza were displaced to Egypt.

  • "It is not the way to deal with the conflict. Palestinian civilians should not be penalized and should not leave their territory," he said.
  • Shoukry is in Washington on Thursday together with several other Arab foreign ministers to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken about the war in Gaza.
  • Diaa Rashwan, head of the Egyptian State Information Service, said on Thursday that displacement of Palestinians from Gaza to the Sinai "is a red line" for Egypt and it won't allow it no matter what the implications are.
  • Egyptian officials declined to comment for this story.

Behind the scenes: Israeli officials say that over the last few weeks Egyptian officials, including in the military and in the intelligence service, told their counterparts in the IDF and the Shin Bet that they are highly concerned about the implications of an operation in southern Gaza for Egypt.

  • The Egyptians expressed anxiety that a crisis on their border with Gaza would result in thousands of Palestinian refugees crossing the border barrier and trying to find shelter in the Sinai, according to three Israeli officials.

One Israeli official said Egyptian officials told their Israeli counterparts they are concerned that militants from Gaza could also then escape into Egypt.

  • The Egyptians told Israel that such a scenario could create a serious crisis in the relations between Egypt and Israel, the Israeli officials said.
  • A U.S. official said Egypt shared the same concerns with the U.S. and stressed that Egyptian officials warned of "a rupture" with Israel if it happens.
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