Peace mediators warn Israel over Rafah expansion

by ian

The Israeli plan to strike the city of Rafah is worrying some of its neighboring nations. Prior to this past weekend, the Israeli military was signaling that its ground offensive in Gaza may be shifting into the southern city of Rafah.

This location, found on the border of Gaza and Egypt, has become a vital part of the chain of aid pouring into Gaza. Many trucks and convoys move through it to provide various services to the Gazan people while over a million displaced Gazans also remain in the region because of Israel’s campaign against Hamas.

But the expansion of Israel’s campaign into a city bordering Gaza and Egypt may have unintended consequences. On Saturday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that any ground offensive that expands into Rafah would have “disastrous consequences.”

That language alone is enough to raise some eyebrows, but Shoukry went further. He said if any Palestinian refugees currently held in Rafah were to be forced further into Egypt, then it might disrupt the 40-year-old peace treaty with Israel.

This was in reference to peace brokered under the 1978 Camp David Accords. Before that time, relations between Egypt and Israel were tense and broke off into violence. But the peace treaty offered a stable, if tense, understanding between the two nations, and established diplomatic relations between Israel and many of its neighboring countries.

Part of that treaty also attempted to establish a governed territory for Palestinians, as Egypt feared that millions would flee into its borders to become refugees. Those fears are surfacing again.

Israel intends to evacuate the displaced Palestinians in Rafah before beginning the next part of its assault, but Egypt is unsure where the refugees will go. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to assuage these concerns in a weekend interview, saying there is “plenty of room” in the north.

Netanyahu says he won’t back away from the plan to go into Rafah, citing the existence of four Hamas battalions. But the move is spreading fear beyond just Egypt.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have chimed in on the conversation, warning of “very serious repercussions” should Israel continue. Even the White House said the campaign should not continue without “credible and executable” means to protect civilians in the area.

Regardless, Israel has started a miniature assault on certain parts of the city, striking what it described as “terror targets” in one district.