Rafah attack will deepen Egypt-Israel rift and hurt ceasefire talks, sources say

Cairo will continue efforts to mediate despite strong condemnation of the Israeli strike

Two Palestinians console each other next to the site of an Israeli strike that killed at least 45 in Rafah. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

The latest Israeli strike on a refugee camp in Rafah will hurt the efforts to establish a ceasefire and hostage release deal, Egyptian sources told The National on Monday.

Egypt strongly condemned an attack on a refugee camp in Rafah on Sunday night which killed at least 45 people, in what Cairo called a “deliberate” strike.

On Monday, an Egyptian soldier was shot and killed on the Gaza border by Israeli soldiers, worsening diplomatic tensions.

The circumstances of the shooting were unclear. Both Egypt and Israel said they were investigating the incident.

Cairo has been engaged in months-long efforts, together with fellow mediators Qatar and the US, to reach an agreement between Israel and Hamas on a ceasefire.

“The latest attack in Rafah will certainly hurt the continuing contacts to resume the negotiations for a Gaza ceasefire and a deal to release hostages held by Hamas,” one of the sources said. “That’s 100 per cent.”

The sources said while Sunday’s attack on Rafah is set to widen the rift between Egypt and Israel, Cairo would continue its mediation efforts.

Discussions between the mediators with Israel and Hamas are set to resume next week, a source said. Talks were paused earlier this month when Israel rejected demands made by Hamas.

Qatar also voiced similar remarks in its condemnation of the Rafah attack. It said it feared the attack would “complicate continuing mediation efforts and hinder reaching an agreement for an immediate and permanent ceasefire”.

Last week, Egypt threatened to withdraw from mediating a ceasefire after a CNN report that intelligence officials had quietly changed the terms of a recent proposal. However, sources indicate that Cairo is willing to continue the talks.

On Monday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry called on Israel to introduce last week’s order from the International Court of Justice to halt its military operations in Rafah.

Cairo also reinforced its forces in the Sinai Peninsula, near the border, placing them on high alert.

It described the attack as a “new flagrant violation of the provisions of international humanitarian law.” The attack was part of a “systematic policy aimed at widening the scope of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip to make it uninhabitable,” the ministry said.

Israel defended the attack, saying it had killed two senior Hamas officials and that reports of civilian casualties and injuries were “under review”.

“The strike was carried out against legitimate targets under international law,” the Israeli army said.

Egypt has traditionally viewed Gaza as a matter of national security, seeking to maintain a significant level of leverage in the enclave.

Egypt was the first Arab country to establish ties with Israel. Both countries are bound by a US-sponsored peace treaty signed in 1979, but their relations have been fraught with tension since the start of the war in Gaza.

Relations fell to a new low when Israel’s military seized the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza on May 7.

The Israeli move drew an angry response from Cairo, which last week said it was intervening in support of South Africa’s case before the ICJ accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza.

Updated: May 27, 2024, 2:23 PM