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President Abdel Fattah El Sisi of Egypt said on Wednesday that Israel's onslaught on the Gaza Strip was an attempt to force Gazans to move to the Sinai, which Mr El Sisi has said Egypt will not allow.
He dared Israel to transfer Gaza's civilians to its southern Negev desert instead until the siege on the coastal enclave is complete.
"What is happening in Gaza right now is not just a military operation against Hamas, but also an attempt to push civilians to seek refuge or migrate to Egypt," the Egyptian leader said. "If you must force migration then take them to the Negev desert until you defeat the armed resistance."
Over successive Arab-Israeli wars, beginning in 1948, the UN says about 5.9 million Palestinians have been displaced or fled their homes to nearby countries, many of whom are in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Mr El Sisi was speaking after his meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is in Cairo for talks on the escalating situation in the Gaza Strip.
He warned that forcing Palestinians to flee the bombardment of Gaza into Egypt's adjoining Sinai could be emulated in the West Bank, where residents could seek refuge in neighbouring Jordan.
"In that case, the idea of establishing a Palestinian state will be inapplicable. The land will be there but without people," Mr El Sisi said. Moving Gazans into Sinai risks transferring one of the fiercest Palestinian resistance movements into the peninsula as well, he said.
If the Palestinian resistance moves into Gaza, it could launch attacks from Egyptian soil on Israel, who, in turn, would be well within its right to retaliate, which would inevitably disrupt Egypt's peace, Mr El Sisi said.
His sentiments were reiterated by Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who told CNN on Tuesday night that Egypt should not have to bear the responsibility of rehoming millions of Palestinians from Gaza on its own land when it is already host to nine million other refugees.
Mr Shoukry warned of certain intentions to forcibly displace Gaza’s 2.3 million populace into Egyptian territory so they “lose their property and they lose their homeland for purposes of a political reason”.
Experts say a seemingly short-term solution to the refugee crisis in Gaza – by allowing Palestinians into Egypt – could ultimately become a long-term crisis.
Egypt has been repeatedly criticised by rights groups and Israeli left-wing commentators for not opening the Rafah crossing, which it shares with the Gaza Strip. Opening the corridor would allow Palestinians to flee Israeli air strikes and take shelter in the Sinai.
“I don’t understand what is the purpose of the transfer of vast numbers of people to a country that is already host to nine million refugees to have an additional influx of this nature,” Mr Shoukry said.
Cairo has maintained that the crossing is officially open but that difficulties in allowing Palestinians out were mainly due to damage sustained to access roads after Israeli air strikes.
Mr Shoukry has said people stranded on the Palestinian side of the crossing, including hundreds of foreign citizens whose embassies told them to head to Rafah for evacuation, was a lack of co-operation from the operators of the crossing on the Palestinian side.
The latter say they will allow people out once aid, which has thus far been blocked from entry into Gaza by Israel, is allowed in, Mr Shoukry said.
“There is a miles-long convoy of humanitarian assistance between Arish and Rafah with trucks parked on the side of the road, awaiting the possibility of entering Gaza,” Mr Shoukry said on Tuesday, explaining that Egypt is yet to receive the necessary authorisations from Israel to allow aid into Gaza.
Assurances that aid convoys would not be targeted upon entering Gaza have not been received, he added.
Egypt would not allow its position on the Israel-Gaza war to be misrepresented by erroneous reports about why it has not yet opened the Rafah crossing, Mr Shoukry told the BBC on Tuesday.
Egypt’s rejection of the transfer of Gazans into Sinai was applauded by Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Gaza’s ruling militant group Hamas on Saturday.
“There is no migration from the West Bank, nor from Gaza, and I say there is no migration from Gaza to Egypt. I salute our brothers in Egypt, and I say to my brothers in Egypt that our decision is to stay in our land, and your decision is our decision,” Mr Haniyeh said.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, has said that it is holding between 200 and 250 hostages in Gaza while Israel's military claims that the group is holding 199.
Hamas's Lebanon representative Osama Hamdan told The National the hostages would be used as bargaining chips to secure the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Egypt is part of negotiations to resolve the hostage situation, Mr Shoukry told CNN.
“Everyone in the region is eager to address this issue and to guarantee the safety and the release of all civilian hostages and Palestinian detainees as well,” he said.
Israel’s air attack on the Gaza Strip entered its 11th day on Wednesday, with the death toll in the enclave surpassing 3,100, most of whom are civilians. The assault was launched after an October 7 attack by Hamas into Israel that killed about 1,300, also mostly civilians.