An Egyptian government spokesperson warned Israel on Tuesday against taking military action in a buffer zone along the Gaza-Egypt border known as the Philadelphi Corridor.
Israeli officials have warned they may launch military operations along the 14 kilometer (9 mile) Egypt-Gaza border to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into the Strip through cross-border tunnels. There are also concerns that Hamas may move Israeli hostages into the Sinai.
“This is an attempt to legitimize the occupation of the Philadelphia axis, in violation of the security agreements, and any Israeli move in this direction will lead to a serious threat to Egypt-Israel relations,” said the head of Egypt’s State Information Services, Diaa Rashwan. “Egypt is able to protect its interests and sovereignty and these will not be surrendered to a group of extremist Israeli leaders seeking to drag the region into a state of conflict.”
Speaking at a Jan. 14 press conference in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted the Gaza-Egypt tunnels, saying, “We will not end the war without closing this loophole.”
Netanyahu added, “If we end the war without this, we will not be able to know that we have isolated Gaza. There are several options for how to close it. We have not yet made a decision.”
Other possibilities for monitoring the border, such as with drones or sensors, would also require Egyptian approval.
On Dec. 15, the Israel Defense Forces struck Hamas positions along the border in the town of Rafah. The IDF said it targeted sites facilitating weapons smuggling. It was the only known Israeli strike along the Egyptian border since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas.
As the Tazpit Press Service reported in December, Hamas is pressuring Egypt by calling on Gazans to flee to Rafah, the town where the Rafah border crossing with Egypt is located. It is the only Gaza border crossing not controlled by Israel. The rising number of Palestinians in Rafah is increasing the pressure on Egypt to allow them to shelter in the Sinai.
But Cairo has been steadfast in its refusal to allow this, saying an influx of Palestinians would undermine Egyptian security in the Sinai. Egyptian officials warn that refugee camps in the Sinai or along the Gaza-Egypt border will become armed.
The Egypt-Gaza border is politically sensitive, technically a demilitarized zone under the terms of the Camp David Accords signed in 1978.
To prevent weapons smuggling after Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2006, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority reached an agreement to create a buffer zone along the border known as the Philadelphi Corridor. Cairo’s plans to secure the Egyptian side of the border with armed troops required Israel’s assent.
The next year, Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from the P.A.
At least 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border on Oct. 7. The number of men, women, children, soldiers and foreigners held captive in Gaza by Hamas is now believed to be 136. Other people remain unaccounted for as Israeli authorities continue to identify bodies and search for human remains.