Egypt threatens to withdraw from Gaza talks after critical CNN report

Cairo says it is being punished for standing by Palestinian rights and joining South Africa's ICJ case against Israel

Egyptian representatives Jasmine Moussa and Hatem Kamaledldin at the ICJ in The Hague, which is hearing South Africa's case accusing Israel of genocide. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

Egypt has threatened to withdraw from mediating a Gaza ceasefire, saying attempts to question its integrity in handling the negotiations reflected a desire to punish Cairo for standing by Palestinian rights.

Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt’s State Information Service, spoke late on Wednesday in response to a CNN report that Cairo's intelligence officials quietly changed the terms of a recent proposal and scuttled a deal for a Gaza truce and prisoner and hostage swap between Israel and Hamas.

“Attempts to cast doubt and offend Egypt's mediation efforts … will only lead to further complications of the situation in Gaza and the entire region and may push Egypt to completely withdraw from its mediation in the current conflict,” Mr Rashwan said.

In a thinly veiled reference to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government, he said “specific parties” were avoiding making decisions so as to protect personal interests or to deal with “massive domestic political crisis” they are facing.

Egypt, he said, was engaged in Gaza mediation at the insistence of Israel and the US.

The CNN report published on Tuesday, citing three sources, said Egyptian intelligence officials changed the terms of a ceasefire proposal that Israel had agreed to earlier in May, without consulting fellow mediators Qatar and the US.

When Hamas announced on May 6 that it had accepted the truce agreement, it was not the proposal that the US and Qatar thought was submitted to Hamas for review, according to CNN.

The changes caused anger among US, Israeli and Qatari officials and led to an impasse in the talks, CNN said.

Sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The National on Thursday that Egypt's mediators worked closely with their Qatari and US partners throughout the process.

“Everything in the draft proposals was agreed upon in advance by all the mediators,” said one source.

Mr Rashwan said the CNN report amounted to an attempt to punish Egypt for its unwavering support for Palestinian rights and its decision last week to intervene in support of South Africa’s case before the International Court of Justice that accuses Israel of genocide.

He also cited Egypt’s insistence that it would not reopen its Rafah border crossing with Gaza if Israel does not first relinquish control of the Palestinian side, which it captured on May 7.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday urged Cairo to do everything it could to make sure humanitarian aid flows into Gaza, as food and medicine bound piled up on the Egyptian side.

Fighting near the border crossing has made providing assistance challenging, but aid could still be getting through, Mr Blinken said.

“So, we need to find a way to make sure that the assistance that would go through Rafah can get through safely, but we do strongly urge our Egyptian partners to do everything that they can on their end of things to make sure that assistance is flowing,” he said.

Egypt maintains that the presence of Israeli forces on the Gaza side of the crossing poses a threat to the safety of aid workers and lorry drivers.

Relations between Egypt and Israel, which signed a peace treaty in 1979, have been tense since the Gaza war began seven months ago. They hit a new low when Israel captured the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing and launched a ground offensive on Rafah, where some 1.5 million displaced Palestinians had taken refuge.

Egypt views the Gaza Strip as an extension of its national security sphere. It has repeatedly voiced concern that a ground operation in Rafah would significantly increase civilian casualties and send Palestinians there fleeing across the border and into its Sinai Peninsula.

But more than two weeks into the Israeli ground offensive there, Egypt's fears of a mass flight into its territory have not materialised. The UN says about 900,000 people have left Rafah since the Israeli assault began on May 6 to seek relative safety elsewhere in Gaza.

The Gaza war was triggered by an attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants who killed about 1,200 people and took about 240 others hostage.

The attack, the deadliest in Israel’s history, drew a devastating response from Israel, whose bombardment campaign and ground operations killed more than 35,700 Palestinians and wounded about 80,000, according to the latest toll from Gaza's Health Ministry.

A week-long pause in the war in late November saw Hamas release about 100 hostages in exchange for about 300 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the US to broker another truce have been unsuccessful.

Updated: May 23, 2024, 8:36 AM