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Egypt setting up walled area to host refugees from Gaza

The United States has repeatedly said it would oppose any displacement of Palestinians out of Gaza.

February 16, 2024 at 4:34 pm

Egypt had begun preparing an area at the Gaza border which could accommodate Palestinians in case an Israeli offensive on Rafah prompts an exodus across the frontier, emphasising this was a contingency step, sources have told Reuters.

Egypt has repeatedly raised the alarm over the possibility that Israel’s Gaza offensive could displace Palestinians into Sinai – something Cairo says would be completely unacceptable.

The head of Egypt’s State Information Service said the sources’ accounts had “no basis in truth”.

The United States has repeatedly said it would oppose any displacement of Palestinians out of Gaza.

The Israeli government has said the offensive aims to destroy Hamas, not force out Palestinians. With Foreign Minister Israel Katz today saying Tel Aviv has no plans to deport Palestinians from Gaza and will find a way to not harm Egypt’s interests. But numerous Israeli ministers and community leaders have advocated the resettlement of Palestinians outside Gaza.

Two Israeli officials contacted by Reuters on Friday declined to comment on the report of Egypt’s contingency plan.

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Israel has said its army is drawing up a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah to other parts of the Gaza Strip.

Reuters’ report comes after the Sinai for Human Rights Foundation said it obtained new photographic evidence that the Egyptian authorities were building a security buffer zone surrounded by walls in the Egyptian city of Rafah, east of Sinai.

This “isolation area” could receive refugees “in the event of a mass exodus from the population of the [Gaza] Strip,” it explained.

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have all subsequently confirmed the revelations with the WSJ saying: “Egyptian authorities, fearful that an Israeli military push further into southern Gaza will set off a flood of refugees, are building an 8-square-mile walled enclosure in the Sinai Desert near the border.”

Currently living in a tent in Rafah, Um Zaki said she had nowhere to go with her five children, having already fled twice.

“Maybe they will force us into Sinai by sending the tanks in, some people will not think twice and will climb the wall to save their lives and their children, and no one should blame them,” the 49-year-old told Reuters by phone.

“This isn’t what I fear. I am afraid it will be a second Nakba and that we will not return to Gaza,” she added.

“In 1948 Arab countries assured our parents in Jaffa and elsewhere it would be a matter of days before they returned and here we are, 75 years of displacement,” she said.

“Will there be a deal at the last minute to save Rafah, save the Gaza Strip? I only hope the miracle happens.”

Israel says it must go into Rafah to wipe out the “last bastion” of Hamas.

The Israeli offensive waged in response has laid waste to swathes of the Gaza Strip and killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in Gaza.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees said today that a spillover of refugees from Rafah into Egypt would be a disaster and that Egyptian authorities had made clear that Palestinians should be assisted in the enclave.

“It would be a disaster for the Palestinians … a disaster for Egypt and a disaster for the future of peace,” Filippo Grandi said on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Thursday it was an “illusion” to think people in Gaza could evacuate to a safe place and warned of the possibility of Palestinians spilling into Egypt if Israel launches a military operation in Rafah.

He called this scenario “a sort of Egyptian nightmare”.

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