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Egypt Expresses Opposition to Allowing Palestinians From Gaza Into Sinai

A Palestinian woman with a foreign passport waits at the Rafah gate hoping to cross into Egypt as Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip continued on Oct. 14, 2023.
A Palestinian woman with a foreign passport waits at the Rafah gate hoping to cross into Egypt as Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip continued on Oct. 14, 2023.

As Egypt faces the possibility of receiving an influx of Palestinian refugees from its northern border with Gaza, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has repeated his country's long-standing opposition to permitting Palestinians from Gaza to be resettled in the Sinai.

Egypt and Israel reportedly agreed Saturday to open the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egyptian territory to allow U.S. citizens stranded in the Hamas-controlled territory to leave.

There was no agreement, however, for other residents of Gaza to enter Egypt as Israel pursues its military operations across the territory.

El-Sissi insisted Thursday that Palestinians must resist efforts to force them to leave Gaza.

He said that the Palestinian cause is one all Arabs hold dear and that Palestinians should remain firm and stay on their own land.

Earlier this week, Israeli military commander Col. Richard Hecht urged Palestinians in Gaza to "get out of Gaza" and head to Egypt. The Israel Defense Forces later issued a statement saying there was "no official call" by Israel for residents of Gaza to enter Egypt.

Egyptian Member of Parliament Mustafa Bakri told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV Saturday that Egypt "has warned both Israel and other international parties that it will fight any efforts to try and resettle Palestinians in the Sinai." He claimed that a several-decade-old plan exists to implant Palestinians in the Sinai and use Egyptian territory as part of a Palestinian homeland.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA that it was former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who made the claim that Israel has a plan to resettle Palestinians in the Sinai in exchange for wiping out part of the country's debt — now estimated to be about $170 billion.

Said Sadek, who teaches peace studies at the Egypt-Japan University, said that Egypt "does not want to see large numbers of Palestinians in the Sinai, because it could cause instability in a key tourist hotspot, if they began firing at Israel from Egyptian soil."

Sadek also said that a large Palestinian presence in Egypt "could cause turmoil between Egyptians who support peace with Israel and those who would like to fight the Jewish state."

Egyptian media reported periodic Israeli military strikes near the border between Egypt and Gaza in recent days as traffic was halted through the border crossing at Rafah. Egypt urged countries wishing to send aid supplies to Gaza to send them to the airport at nearby El Arish, so they may be sent to the border by truck when the crossing reopens.

Palestinians bulldozed part of the border fence between Egypt and Gaza during an Israeli military operation on Gaza in 2008, with hundreds of Palestinians entering Egypt's northern Sinai. That border breach caused lasting concern in Egypt that Palestinians in Gaza would seek to hold on to portions of Egyptian territory and remain on Egyptian land.

Various Arab leaders have urged Palestinians in Gaza not to try to leave the territory, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, based in Ramallah, told residents of Gaza — controlled by the rival Hamas movement — not to leave the territory, in a press conference Friday.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi also insisted during a press conference Saturday in Amman that his country would not allow Palestinians to flee into Jordan.

He said that King Abdullah II has stated that forcing Palestinians to flee their homeland is a "red line" that he will not accept.

Safadi went on to warn that the "security and stability of the entire region is being threatened" by what is taking place in Gaza.