Biden and El Sisi say Gazans should not be displaced into Egypt

Concerns grow among Palestinians and leaders of Arab states that the war could force Gazans to flee to Sinai

A tent camp shelters displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
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US President Joe Biden has spoken to his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El Sisi to discuss the importance of ensuring that Palestinians in Gaza are not displaced to Egypt or any other country.

During a phone call on Sunday, the two leaders also expressed their dedication to pursuing peace in the Middle East, including the establishment of a Palestinian state, the White House said.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to work together and discussed the importance of protecting civilian lives, respect for international humanitarian law, and ensuring that Palestinians in Gaza are not displaced to Egypt or any other nation,” a readout of the call said.

The development comes amid growing concerns over the fate of the 2.3 million Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.

More than one million people have been ordered to flee the north of the area, and head south near the border with Egypt amid heavy Israeli bombardment.

About 8,000 people have been killed, according to a local tally, since October 7, when Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel, killing 1,400 and taking more than 200 hostage.

Palestinians in Gaza, many of them descendants of refugees of the 1948 war that lead to Israel's creation, worry that they will be driven out of Gaza and into the Sinai in southern Egypt, unable to return.

Lebanon, Jordan and Syria are home to millions of Palestinian refugees.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the Biden administration is currently focused on creating a safe passage for civilians wishing to leave temporarily while the conflict is raging.

"The focus is on seeing if we can get a passage out, and obviously, should we be able to secure that we would have conversations with partners in Egypt about what the capacity would be to provide some sort of temporary subsistence capability for the family families wanting to get out of Gaza," Mr Kirby told reporters on Monday.

"Our sense is that they they want to go back home

"Many of them want to leave now of course, and that's understandable, but there's not a desire, by many at least from our sense, that they want to leave forever and go somewhere else in the world."

On Monday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller was asked if Gazans should be allowed to seek refuge in the US.

“We believe that the people of Gaza want to stay in Gaza. That's what we've consistently heard from Palestinian leadership and others in the region and we believe that they have the right to do,” Mr Miller said.

Since October 7, Israel has tightened the blockade on Gaza, severely restricting the entry of water, food, medicine and fuel. On Friday, internet access was cut.

Gaza has been under Israeli blockade since 2007, when Hamas took over the territory. The only way out of Gaza is through the southern crossing with Egypt, which has also been closed since the war began.

Only a small number of lorries carrying aid have been allowed into Gaza, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.

Updated: October 30, 2023, 8:18 PM