RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Egypt threatens to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if Israeli troops are sent to the densely populated Gaza border town of Rafah, where it fears fighting could force the closure of the main aid supply route. from the besieged territory, two Egyptian officials said. and a Western diplomat said on Sunday.
The threat to suspend the Camp David Accords, a cornerstone of regional stability for nearly half a century, came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said sending troops to Rafah was necessary to win the four-month war against the militant group. Palestinian Hamas. He said Hamas still has four battalions there.
More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled to Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere, and are crowded into sprawling tent camps and UN-run shelters near the border. Egypt fears a massive influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who may never be allowed to return.
Netanyahu told Fox News on Sunday that there is “a lot of room north of Rafah for them to go” after Israel’s offensive in other parts of Gaza, and said Israel would direct evacuees with “fliers, cell phones and safe corridors and other things”.
The confrontation between Israel and Egypt, two close allies of the United States, took shape when aid groups warned that an offensive in Rafah would worsen the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, where around 80 percent of residents have fled their homes and where According to the UN, a quarter of the population faces hunger.
A ground operation in Rafah could cut off one of the only routes to deliver much-needed food and medical supplies to Gaza.
Hamas’ Al-Aqsa television station quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying that any invasion of Rafah would “blow up” talks brokered by the United States, Egypt and Qatar aimed at achieving a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages. .
U.S. President Joe Biden and Netanyahu were expected to speak later Sunday, according to two administration officials with knowledge of the call who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s private conversations. Last week, Biden called Israel’s military response in Gaza “overblown.”
The three officials confirmed Egypt’s threats and spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists about the sensitive negotiations. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries have also warned of serious repercussions if Israel enters Rafah.
“An Israeli offensive on Rafah would lead to an unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe and serious tensions with Egypt,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote in X.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that forced displacement is a war crime and that civilians who do not evacuate remain protected under international humanitarian law. “There is no safe place to go in Gaza,” said Nadia Hardman, a researcher on refugee and migrant rights.
The White House, which has sent weapons to Israel and shielded it from international calls for a ceasefire, has also warned against a ground operation in Rafah under the current circumstances, saying it would be a “disaster” for civilians.
Israel and Egypt fought five wars before signing the Camp David Accords, a historic peace treaty negotiated by then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. The treaty includes several provisions governing the deployment of forces on both sides of the conflict. border.
Egypt has heavily fortified its border with Gaza, creating a five-kilometer buffer zone and erecting concrete walls above and below ground. He has denied Israeli accusations that Hamas operates smuggling tunnels under the border, saying Egyptian forces have full control on their side.
Egyptian officials fear that if the border is breached, the military will not be able to stem a tide of people fleeing toward the Sinai Peninsula.
The United Nations says Rafah, which normally hosts fewer than 300,000 people, is now home to 1.4 million more who fled fighting elsewhere, and is “severely overcrowded.”
Inside Rafah, some displaced people packed their bags again. Rafat and Fedaa Abu Haloub, who fled Beit Lahia in the north early in the war, placed their belongings in the back of a truck. “We don’t know where we can safely take him,” Fedaa said of his baby. “Every month we have to move, and with all the fear and missiles.”
An Israeli ground invasion of Rafah could force Palestinians in Gaza to flee to Egypt, Om Mohammad Al-Ghemry said, and he hoped the Egyptians would “open the borders and let us flee to the Sinai.”
Israel has ordered much of Gaza’s population to flee south, with evacuation orders covering two-thirds of the territory, even as it carries out regular airstrikes on all areas, including Rafah. Airstrikes on the city in recent days have killed dozens of Palestinians, including women and children.
Israel’s offensive has caused widespread destruction, particularly in northern Gaza, and heavy fighting continues in central Gaza and in the southern city of Khan Younis. In Gaza City on Sunday, remaining residents covered decomposing bodies in the streets or carried corpses to graves. Some streets were covered in sand from the bombings.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Sunday that the bodies of 112 people killed across the territory had been taken to hospitals in the past 24 hours, as well as those of 173 wounded. The deaths brought the strip’s death toll to 28,176 since the start of the war. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but says most of the dead were women and children.
The war began with the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7, when Palestinian militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped about 250. More than 100 hostages were freed in November during a ceasefire. a week in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners. Some of the remaining hostages have died.
Hamas has said it will not release more unless Israel ends its offensive and withdraws from Gaza. He has also demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including high-ranking militants serving life sentences.
Netanyahu has dismissed both demands, saying Israel will continue fighting until “complete victory” and the return of all hostages.