On the far side of the Sinai Peninsula, about a six-hour drive from Cairo through largely empty Egyptian desert, the Rafah Crossing is a vast expanse of sand, concrete and nothing else. Isolated from the rest of Egypt, not only by distance but also by severe military restrictions, Rafah can feel as far removed from world events as any place on the planet.
But over the last three weeks of Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza, the Rafah crossing has become a focus of heated negotiations, and a place where many people, both powerful and weak, are pinning their dwindling hopes. With Israel imposing a stifling siege on the densely populated Gaza Strip, the Rafah crossing became the only entrance to the Gaza Strip through which aid reaches its population of 2.3 million people. So far, nothing and no one has been able to get out of Gaza.
But that may change soon: Egypt informed authorities in Gaza that it will receive 81 seriously injured people from Gaza and treat them in Egyptian hospitals on Wednesday, according to a statement issued by the General Authority for Crossings and Borders in Gaza.
Egypt’s control of the Rafah crossing has given it a prominent position as one of Gaza’s main donors and an important player in the conflict, a position that analysts say could help it secure more international financial support amid a crushing economic crisis in the North African country. Egypt highlighted this role on Tuesday when the government took journalists on a tightly controlled trip to Rafah.
Aid trucks and army tanks lined the dirt road leading to the crossing. Dozens of volunteers from government-sponsored relief organizations and the Egyptian Red Crescent walked around. Several ambulances stopped inside the huge corridor surrounding the crossing.
Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said, in a short press conference, amid crowds of volunteers carrying Egyptian flags: “From the first moment, we sent aid convoys from our organizations, and volunteers have been staying here around the clock for days.” Pro-Palestinian banners gathered to listen. He added: “Egypt has borne the burdens of the Palestinian issue for years.”
However, due to factors beyond Egypt’s control, the Rafah crossing can only meet a fraction of Gaza’s needs. Relief officials say that only 241 trucks of aid have arrived in Gaza since it opened its doors two weeks ago after negotiations between the United States, Israel, Egypt and the United Nations, a small number considering the scale of humanitarian needs.
Israel, which conducts strict inspections of aid trucks, has been the main player in slowing down the process, according to the United Nations, the European Union, and Egyptian and American officials. But Israel has now agreed to allow in about 80 trucks per day, according to Western diplomats familiar with the negotiations, still short of the 100 trucks per day that the United Nations says is necessary.
Wael Abu Omar, spokesman for the Gaza Strip from the Rafah crossing, said that 83 trucks arrived in Gaza on Tuesday.
David Satterfield, the US special envoy charged with looking after humanitarian issues in the conflict, said in Cairo on Sunday that aid must flow much more quickly in order to show Gazans in increasing distress that they do not need to resort to looting UN warehouses for aid. Humanity. For a living, as happened a few days ago.
“This is a society on the brink and desperate,” he said, adding that agencies distributing aid “must be able to prove that the aid is not accidental.”
Negotiators are also pressing for the evacuation of people in Gaza who hold foreign passports and their families, along with employees of foreign embassies and international organizations. Over the past three weeks, people have rushed to the Gaza side of the gate several times after being told they could cross, only to find it locked. The United States has publicly blamed Hamas, the political and military organization that controls the Strip, while Egypt has publicly blamed Israel, saying it has made the crossing unsafe through its repeated bombing of the Gaza side.
But no one publicly blames Egypt, although Western diplomats involved in the evacuation effort say Egypt’s fears — including the possibility that a mob of desperate people might try to penetrate Egypt once the gate opens — also play a role in the exodus of foreign nationals. Continued inability to evacuate.
There is still a chance to reach an agreement on the departure of people holding foreign passports. But Egypt has made clear that it will not accept large numbers of Palestinian refugees on its territory, a proposal that some in the international community, including Israel, have reportedly put forward. Mr. Madbouly flatly rejected this idea, as did the volunteers at the gate.
“No, no, no, this is not a solution, and I reject this solution,” said Mustafa Muftah, 30, a university lecturer from the neighboring Egyptian city of Al-Arish who began volunteering as a translator in Rafah a week ago. “This is our land, and we love this land.”
Satterfield said on Sunday that the United States also does not consider that an option, saying that the Biden administration respects Egypt’s sovereignty and that it believes “the future of the Palestinian people in Gaza lies in Gaza.”
Heba Yazbek And Iyad Abu Huwaila Contributed to reports.
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