around the Rafah crossing, a diplomatic game with three bands

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The Israeli army operates on the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing, on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Image released on May 7, 2024 by the Israeli Defense Forces. ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES VIA REUTERS

Nineteen years after withdrawal of the Jewish state of the Gaza Strip, the image of Israeli tanks advancing on the road to Philadelphia, along the border with Egypt, and the Star of David flag flying over the Rafah crossing, caused a shock in the Arab world. While it has been threatening for months to defeat the last Hamas battalions in this city where more than 1.4 million Gazans are massed, the Hebrew State announced, Tuesday morning, May 7, that it had taken “operational control” on the Palestinian side of the crossing point, the main entry point for humanitarian aid into the enclave.

In Cairo and Washington, this development provoked very measured reactions. Although opposed to an operation on Rafah, which could cause a humanitarian catastrophe and a forced displacement of the population towards the Sinai, Egypt and the United States believe that their red lines have not yet been crossed. The Israeli government remains committed to the negotiations, which resumed in Cairo on Wednesday, while threatening to advance its troops elsewhere in Rafah in order to exert pressure on Hamas in these talks.

On Tuesday, a White House spokesman, John Kirby, stressed that Israel had informed its major ally that its operation was “limited in scope, scale and duration”. For the Joe Biden administration, the only course remains the conclusion of an agreement allowing the release of at least some of the Israeli hostages, and the capture of the terminal by Israel is not likely to bury these negotiations. Washington, however, maintains its refusal of a more extensive operation, which would sow chaos in this overpopulated area, from where the United Nations and humanitarian organizations operate.

Egyptian response deemed timid

Cairo, for its part, condemned the threat that this Israeli fait accompli poses to already fragile negotiations and warned of the risk of a “humanitarian nightmare” in the event of an expansion of operations. This response is considered timid by many Egyptians who denounce, on social networks, an attack on the sovereignty of the country and a flagrant violation of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979, following the Camp David agreements.

“No mention was made of the Israeli tanks that entered the Salah Eddine corridor [la route de Philadelphie]. No diplomatic retaliation measures have been announced, wonders Hossam El-Hamalawy, an Egyptian researcher exiled in Germany. The Egyptian state and the army are reduced to the role of spectators, even accomplices, in the ongoing massacres in Gaza. »

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