El Sisi reassures Egyptians as war rages next door in Gaza

President warns that expansion of Gaza war is like 'ticking time bomb'

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said widening the Israel-Gaza conflict 'is not in the interest of the region'. EPA
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President Abdel Fattah El Sisi on Saturday sought to reassure Egyptians alarmed that the war next door in the Gaza Strip could expand to engulf their nation.

"Egypt is a very strong nation that cannot be touched,” Mr El Sisi said in televised comments.

“It's important that you don't worry. The Egyptian state, thanks to its people, youths and army is capable of totally protecting the homeland.”

Egypt shares borders in the Sinai Peninsula with both Gaza and Israel, with which it signed a peace treaty in 1979. The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, ignited the war when it went on a deadly rampage in southern Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,400 including children and women.

Israel responded with a devastating air campaign that has killed more than 7,000 people and displaced more than a million of the Gaza Strip's 2.3 million residents. It has also slapped a total blockade on Gaza, depriving residents of water, electricity, food, fuel and medicines.

Several convoys of humanitarian aid have entered Gaza from Egypt in the past week, but the UN says the amount delivered is a fraction of what is actually needed.

The Egyptian president's comments came a day after Cairo announced that two drones travelling north from the southern reaches of the Red Sea were shot down.

One drone hit the coastal Sinai town of Taba, injuring at least six people, and the debris of the other fell in an uninhabited section of the port town of Noweiba, according to an Egyptian military spokesman.

Both towns are on the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba, not far from the Israeli city of Eilat at the gulf's northern tip.

Neither the military spokesman nor Mr El Sisi said where the drones were launched from or by whom, but suspicion pointed to Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi forces who have in the past used drones to attack Gulf Arab states.

“Regardless of where they came from, it [the attack] underlines my previous warning that widening the conflict is not in the interest of the region. The region will be like a ticking time bomb that will hurt all of us,” Mr El Sisi said.

The area of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel and Gaza was already tense before the drones incident.

An Egyptian border tower was hit by a stray Israeli shell last week, injuring nine soldiers, two seriously. Israel apologised for the incident.

Egypt says Israel has struck the Gaza side of its border with the coastal strip four times, putting the Rafah border crossing out of operation. Egyptian crews repaired the damage at least twice before aid supplies began to flow through into Gaza on October 21.

The incidents have stoked anger in Egypt over what Mr El Sisi has described as an ill-advised “collective punishment” of Gaza.

The Israeli onslaught also triggered popular drives to collect aid for Gaza and a boycott of US businesses such as Starbucks and McDonald's in response to Washington's support for Israel, its closest Middle East ally.

Street vendors now sell Palestinian flags in many parts of Cairo, sports teams routinely take group photos before and after games while hoisting the flag, and Palestinian national colours have also flooded the accounts of many Egyptian social media users since the war began three weeks ago.

Street protests, a rarity since Mr El Sisi came to power in 2013, have been held across the country to denounce Israel's bombardment of Gaza and express support for the Palestinians.

Updated: October 29, 2023, 6:10 AM