- author, Sebastian Asher
- scroll, BBC editor for the Arab world
Egypt has long played a mediating role, not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but also between the main Palestinian factions themselves.
It was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel in 1978 – after fighting several wars with the Jewish state.
Now the focus is on Egypt’s control of one of the two land routes out of the Gaza Strip – the Rafah crossing.
Thousands of Palestinians are waiting on the Gaza side of the border, while hundreds of trucks carrying much-needed aid are parked on the Egyptian side. Many other aid convoys are also heading towards the border.
But no agreement has yet been reached on opening the crossing, which has also been subjected to several Israeli attacks in recent days.
Cairo has imposed strict restrictions on movement through the Rafah crossing for many years – to the point that many Palestinians accuse Egypt of enforcing Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has been in place since Hamas seized full power in 2007.
The restrictions mainly relate to security concerns in North Sinai, where Egyptian authorities have long been embroiled in a deadly conflict with jihadists linked to Al Qaeda.
Opening without guarantees?
But Egypt’s current reluctance to open the crossing without clear conditions and guarantees may have more to do with trying to prevent the mass exodus of Palestinians from Gaza.
The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, says that the Egyptian authorities fear the influx of large numbers of Gaza residents, for which they will be responsible for an indefinite period.
Moreover, Egypt does not want to play any role in what could amount to the permanent resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza.
The country appears willing to allow foreigners and Palestinians with dual nationality to leave, but wants this to depend on allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Another obstacle is that Israel appears to want the opposite in practice, namely to allow more Palestinians to leave than Egypt is willing to accept, while at the same time limiting the amount of aid that can enter.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that the Israeli government has not yet adopted a position that allows the crossing to be opened.
Diplomatic efforts have been intensified to try to resolve the impasse, with aid agencies warning that the situation in Gaza is increasingly approaching a humanitarian catastrophe.
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