Israel's bombing of Gaza goes 'beyond self-defence', Sisi tells Blinken

Egypt says only two-state solution will end Israel-Gaza conflict

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi during his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cairo on October 15. AP
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Israel has gone beyond the right to self-defence with air strikes on civilians that have led to the mounting deaths of thousands, Egypt's leader has warned.

Abdel Fattah El Sisi told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he feared bombings on the Gaza Strip have turned into "collective punishment".

Mr Blinken met President Abdel Fattah El Sisi shortly after he flew to Cairo from Saudi Arabia.

The US official had already been to Israel, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when he visited Amman.

Mr El Sisi told Mr Blinken that Israel's reaction to the deadly attacks of last weekend went beyond the right of self-defence.

I believe that the reaction under the right of self-defence turned into collective punishment. We completely renounce and reject harming civilians
Abdel Fattah El Sisi

"It is a very huge crisis and I believe that the reaction under the right of self-defence turned into collective punishment," he said, alluding to Israel's devastating bombardment of Gaza.

"It's very, very important that we reduce the tension and deliver aid to Gaza. We are talking about a sector under siege that's left without water, fuel or electricity. We need together to create a momentum to resolve this crisis," he said through an interpreter.

Mr Blinken said he was "appalled by the atrocities committed by Hamas".

"I am first and foremost a human being," Mr Blinken told Mr El Sisi. "It's hard to find the words to describe what happened.

"I am here to talk about working to resolve the crisis and to think together about the way ahead to protect civilians. I think what we are doing is both constructive and fruitful," he said.

Blinken 'listened to region's leaders'

Mr Blinken said the purpose of his trip was “first and foremost to listen” to leaders in the region.

“What I have heard from virtually every partner is that they do not want this conflict to spread,” he said.

He told Mr El Sisi the US “has Israel’s back”, adding “We will stand with it today, tomorrow and every day.”

Mr El Sisi said the region was going through an "unprecedented" crisis.

"What happened nine days ago was, needless to say, difficult and we, again needless to say, condemn it," the Egyptian leader said, offering his country's first public condemnation of the killing of civilians in the October 7 attack.

"But we must also acknowledge the existence of a state of hatred and anger that has accumulated over 40 years because there was no prospect for a solution of the Palestinian question that will give Palestinians hope.

“We are making an effort to contain the situation and prevent other parties from entering the conflict.

"The crisis the region is going through now is unprecedented and we must work with resolve and strength to contain it and limit its ramifications.

“We completely renounce and reject harming civilians, all civilians, and that's a position we have maintained for years."

The comments by Mr El Sisi and the US Secretary of State were released by the Egyptian leader's office in a video clip showing the start of their meeting, a rare action that's apparently designed to give maximum publicity to Egypt's take on the Gaza conflict and counter the outpouring of sympathy and support for Israel following the attacks.

"Allow me to say that I am an Egyptian citizen who grew up in a neighbourhood side by side with Jews who were never persecuted or targeted ... but they may have been targeted in Europe or maybe in Spain," said Mr El Sisi, who was born and raised near the Jewish quarter in the Cairo district of Al Gamalyiah in the Egyptian capital's medieval section.

Ground offensive

Mr Blinken will return to Israel on Monday for his second visit there in five days. His trip there will coincide with Israeli preparations for a ground offensive in Gaza that's likely to result in an even bigger humanitarian crisis.

A week of devastating Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and displaced a million. The onslaught is in retaliation for the surprise October 7 attack on Israel by Gaza militants that left at least 1,300 Israelis dead and wounded thousands more.

Mr Blinken's talks with Mr El Sisi at his Cairo suburban palace came just hours after the Egyptian leader chaired a meeting of his country's National Security Council, on which top army commanders, the prime ministers and key Cabinet members sit.

The council's meetings are only held when a pressing security issue is confronting the nation.

After the meeting, the council issued a statement saying Egypt rejected “the policy of eviction or attempts to liquidate the Palestinian question at the expense of neighbouring nations”.

“Egypt's national security is a red line and there will no leniency in protecting it,” it added.

That was a reference to what Cairo sees as a plot to force the Gaza Strip's 2.3 million residents into Egypt's sparsely populated Sinai Peninsula where they can have a homeland. Israel has already ordered more than one million Palestinians to move from the northern half of the strip to the south close to the Egyptian border.

Separately, Egypt is adamant that Israel must allow humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza from its Rafah border crossing. It has maintained its readiness to receive wounded Palestinians who need treatment.

Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979. The two neighbours have in the past decade been co-operating on counterterrorism and efforts to combat human and drug trafficking into Israel. However, relations have been fraught with tension since the October 7 attacks in southern Israel, which repeatedly bombed the Gaza end of the Rafah crossing.

The statement by the National Security Council also said that Egypt viewed the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel as the only solution to the long-running conflict. It also called for a meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be held in Egypt, bringing together relevant regional and international parties.

Before landing in Egypt, Mr Blinken met on Sunday morning with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. He began his regional tour on Thursday in Israel, pledging support and solidarity for the country as it responded to the surprise attacks by Gaza's Hamas militants.

He also spoke by phone with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to seek Beijing’s support in discouraging others from getting involved in the continuing Hamas-Israel war.

US officials have said the Arab leaders who met with Mr Blinken have said the current situation cannot be resolved without an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that gives the Palestinians an independent state.

In his roughly hour-long meeting with Prince Mohammed at his private farm outside Riyadh, Mr Blinken underlined the United States’ unwavering focus on halting attacks by Hamas, securing the release of all hostages, and preventing the conflict from spreading,” the State Department said.

Updated: October 16, 2023, 7:33 AM