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Egypt is negotiating with Israel over safe corridors in the Gaza Strip through which to send humanitarian aid to the coastal enclave, where hundreds have been killed in Israeli bombardments, security officials said.
The bombing followed a deadly weekend incursion into Israel by Hamas militants.
Egypt, they said, wanted to send food, tents, medical teams and supplies as well as ambulances. It also wants to take some of the wounded to be treated in its hospitals, given that Gaza's medical facilities are overwhelmed and running out of supplies.
If corridors can be carved out for humanitarian purposes, aid will come not only from Egypt, the officials said. Already, Jordan and several Gulf Arab countries are preparing to send aid to Egypt for delivery to Gaza, they said.
Declaring its intention for a full blockade of the Gaza Strip, Israel has stopped he entry of food, fuel and medicine into the Mediterranean enclave, which borders Egypt and Israel.
It leaves Egypt as the only route out of Gaza for the territory's 2.3 million people.
But Cairo closed the border crossing on Tuesday after Israeli strikes near the facility in the town of Rafah. It said the crossing will be used only for delivering aid to Gaza and not to allow those wanting to flee into Egypt.
In Washington, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said late on Tuesday that his country is talking with Israel and Egypt about a possible safe passage for Gaza's civilians.
“We are focused on this question. There are consultations going on,” he said at the White House. “But the details of that are something that are being discussed among the operational agencies and I don't want to share too much of that publicly at this time.”
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, its one-time enemy. The two countries had a “cold peace” for years, but relations have become closer in the past decade, with the two states co-ordinating counterterrorism efforts and tackling human and drug trafficking.
Although President Abdel Fattah El Sisi's government has zero tolerance for political Islam at home, it has forged close ties with Iran-backed Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza. It had in the past mediated truces between Israel and Hamas, the last of which was in 2021.
However, Egypt has also been wary of the presence of such militant groups in Gaza, which borders a region in the north-east corner of the Sinai Peninsula where extremists have been fighting Egyptian security forces for years.
To avoid being dragged into the current Israel-Palestinian conflict, Egypt has in recent days beefed up security along its borders with Gaza and Israel as a precaution against possible infiltrations by militants. It has also put forces there on high alert.
With its efforts to mediate a truce between Israel and Gaza's militants making little headway at present, Egypt is turning its attention to the prevention of a mass flight of refugees from the battered strip into Egypt.
Mr El Sisi, a former army general who faces re-election in December, alluded to that danger on Tuesday.
“There will be no lenience or squandering of Egypt's national security under any circumstances. The Egyptian people must be aware of the complexities of the situation and realise the magnitude of the threat,” he said.
“Egypt will not allow the liquidation of the Palestinian question at the expense of other parties.”
Sensing Cairo's alarm, Israel's ambassador to Egypt, Amira Oron, wrote in Arabic on X, formerly Twitter, that her country has no plans to force Palestinians to flee their Gaza homes and settle in Sinai.
“Israel is committed to its peace treaty with Egypt, which has clearly defined their borders,” she wrote.
Egyptian security officials said the country was determined to persuade Israel to allow the creation of safe corridors for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza and bring the wounded to its hospitals for treatment.
They said Hamas's political leaders backed Egypt's call for the corridors, but the difficulties involved in reaching the movement's military commanders hampered the negotiations with Israel.
“It is making Egypt's task much more difficult,” one of the officials said. “The apparent schism between Hamas's political leaders and the movement's military wing is not helping either.”