Egypt warns Israel Rafah offensive may lead to suspension of peace treaty
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have added their voices to a rising tide of criticism of a planned Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza Strip’s southern city of Rafah, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that such a campaign was forthcoming, according to Times of Israel.
Netanyahu announced Friday that he had ordered the Israeli military to present the cabinet with a plan to both evacuate the city’s civilian population — augmented by over one million refugees from the strip’s north and center — and destroy Hamas’s remaining battalions in the area.
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According to Netanyahu, an assault on Rafah is critical to completing Israel’s stated war aim of dismantling Hamas. Earlier in the week, the premier rejected Hamas’s “delusional” terms for a hostage deal, which included a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Strip and the release of hundreds of terrorists serving life sentences.
“There is limited space and great risk in putting Rafah under further military escalation due to the growing number of Palestinians there,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday during a press briefing, warning that an escalation would have “dire consequences.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Egyptian officials warned the decades-long peace treaty between Egypt and Israel could be suspended if Israel Defense Forces’ troops enter Rafah, or if any of Rafah’s refugees are forced southward into the Sinai Peninsula.
In addition, Saudi Arabia — which has already conditioned normalization with Israel on an end to hostilities and steps toward the establishment of a Palestinian state — issued a statement Saturday warning of “the extremely dangerous repercussions of storming and targeting the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip,” given the city being “the last refuge for hundreds of thousands of people.”
The two Arab countries’ admonitions follow similar warnings by the United States, where senior figures in the administration of President Joe Biden have publicly decried the prospect of a Rafah offensive as a “disaster.” Philippe Lazzarini, chief of the UN’s aid agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, was also quoted by Reuters saying “there is a sense of growing anxiety, growing panic in Rafah because basically people have no idea where to go.”