'No preparation' for influx of Palestinians at Rafah border – Egypt's foreign minister

By Isaac M February 17, 2024

The Egyptian foreign minister has denied reports his country is preparing for an influx of refugees as Palestinians in Rafah face an expected Israeli ground offensive.

More than a million people sheltering around the southern Gazan city of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, are braced for an operation by the Israeli army, with nowhere left to flee inside the besieged territory.

Satellite images taken last Thursday showed construction in progress along the Egypt-Gaza border, prompting suggestions Egypt was gearing up to accept Palestinian civilians.

Satellite images show land being cleared in an area near Egypt's border with Gaza. Pic: Reuters/Maxar Technologies
Image:
Satellite images show land being cleared in an area near Egypt’s border with Gaza. Pic: Reuters/Maxar Technologies

Satellite images show land being cleared in an area near Egypt's border with Gaza. Pic: Reuters/Maxar Technologies
Image:
Pic: Reuters/Maxar Technologies

Footage purportedly of the site was posted by the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, which in a post on X cited Egyptian officials as saying tents were being prepared and the area could serve as a camp to accommodate up to 100,000 refugees.

But Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry has told Sky News’ Yalda Hakim there has been “no preparation whatsoever” for an influx of Palestinians and that the construction seen in the images is ordinary border maintenance.

Mr Shoukry said: “No, we are not preparing anything on our side of the border. Whatever is happening is the ordinary maintenance of our border and our border fortifications. It is in no way related to providing any camps or shelter on our side of the border.

“We are providing a great deal of humanitarian assistance and tents for the sheltering of the Palestinians who do not have any shelter, and in areas that we hope will be immune from military activity.

“[There is] no preparation whatsoever related to the influx of any civilians from Gaza into Egyptian territory.”

The foreign minister added Egypt has regularly maintained the border for “years and years” and any suggestions that there is more to the works are “an exaggeration”.

Palestinians in Rafah shelter at the border with Egypt. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Palestinians in Rafah shelter at the border with Egypt. Pic: Reuters

He said Egypt would continue to provide humanitarian trucks to Palestinians on the other side of the border.

Asked if the idea of an influx of Palestinian refugees was a “red line” for him, Mr Shoukry said: “Absolutely. I’m prepared to hit this at the highest level. This is not an acceptable circumstance.

“We will not accept the liquidation of the Palestinian cause by removing Palestinians from their territory, from their lands, and creating new conditions of displacement.”

The UK’s foreign secretary Lord Cameron has said the UK is “very concerned” about the situation in Rafah and called for Israel to “stop and think seriously” before taking further action, while US President Joe Biden said a “credible plan” was needed to protect civilians before the offensive.

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Israel must have a ‘credible plan’ before Rafah operation

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Israeli officials have said the military is working on a detailed plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah ahead of it, but have yet to share any details.

In an interview aired on US network ABC last week, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that Israeli forces would carry out an assault on Rafah but insisted they were preparing “a detailed plan” for where civilians there could go.

“We’re going to do it. We’re going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah,” he said, adding: “We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population.”

Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister, said on Friday that his country will “coordinate with Egypt” on Palestinian refugees.

The military’s imminent Rafah offensive follows operations in northern Gaza, Gaza City, central Gaza, and Khan Younis.

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Israel says its special forces have raided the biggest functioning hospital in Gaza

Israeli forces raided the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis on Thursday, and said they arrested 100 suspects on the premises, killed gunmen near the hospital and found weapons inside it.

The Gaza health ministry said about 10,000 people were seeking shelter at the hospital earlier this week, but many left either in anticipation of the Israeli raid or because of Israeli orders to evacuate.

They also said at least 83 people have been killed in airstrikes across the Gaza Strip since Friday, including one person in Rafah on Saturday.

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