Israel Palestine Conflict

Rafah border crossing in Sinai: A crucial link in the Israeli-Palestinian war

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The Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is rapidly becoming a focal point in the escalations between Israel and Hamas.

Fierce fighting has left thousands of dead on both sides since Hamas launched a surprise assault on Saturday. The subsequent vigorous Israeli offensive to the unprecedented incursion has forced over 260,000 Palestinians to abandon their homes, according to the United Nations.

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Historically, the Rafah Border Crossing is vital connection point within the ongoing Palestine-Israel conflict and has been a vital link for the Palestinian people, connecting them to the outside world.

It serves as the primary gateway for Gazans to access medical treatment, education, and employment opportunities, as Gaza is effectively blockaded by Israel and Egypt.

This crossing also plays a crucial role in delivering humanitarian aid to the region, addressing its precarious humanitarian situation, which includes food shortages, medical crises, and limited access to clean water.

Moreover, the Rafah Border Crossing has served as a diplomatic tool, often becoming a focal point in negotiations between Israel, Egypt, and international actors during peace talks and agreements.

With the unexpected Hamas attack on southern Israel over the weekend – resulting in numerous casualties and abduction, and the subsequent Israeli retaliation – Egypt is now moving to prevent a mass exodus from the Gaza Strip into its Sinai Peninsula.

Meanwhile, Israeli bombardment halted crossings at the main exit point from the Palestinian enclave on Tuesday, Gaza officials and Egyptian security sources have said.

Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza has caused alarm in Egypt, which has urged Israel to provide a safe passage for civilians from the enclave rather than encouraging them to flee southwest towards Sinai, two Egyptian security sources said, according to Reuters.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Tuesday that the escalation in Gaza was
“highly dangerous” and that Egypt was pursuing a negotiated solution to the violence with regional and international partners.

Egypt’s military had taken up new positions close to the border and was running patrols to monitor the area, said Ahmed Salem of the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights.

Rafah is the sole possible crossing point into Sinai for Gaza’s 2.3 million residents. The rest of the densely populated strip is surrounded by the sea, and by Israel, which has announced a total siege of Gaza and could launch a ground offensive.

Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, has mediated between Israel and Palestinian factions during previous conflicts in Gaza and has pressed to prevent further escalation in the current fighting.

Gaza’s Hamas-run Interior Ministry said bombardments on both Monday and Tuesday had hit an entry gate on the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing. The crossing was also closed from the Egyptian side and Palestinians planning to travel to Gaza retreated to north Sinai’s main city of Al Arish, Egyptian sources said.

On Monday, about 800 people left Gaza through the Rafah crossing and about 500 people entered, though the crossing was closed for the movement of goods, according to the United Nations humanitarian office.

North Sinai’s governor met local authorities on Monday to plan for any crises resulting from events in Gaza, his office said.

Security in the area around Rafah is also of concern to Egypt because Sinai has been the site of an insurgency that flared a decade ago.

Egypt’s military has since largely asserted its control over northern Sinai, facing sporadic attacks there. Israeli tourism in southern Sinai had surged after security on the peninsula improved, but thousands of Israeli tourists returned home after the fighting around Gaza started.

Israel has security concerns regarding the Rafah Border Crossing. The fear is that if not carefully managed, it could be exploited by Palestinian militant groups to smuggle weapons and fighters into Gaza. To mitigate these concerns, strict security measures and surveillance are in place, including limitations on the types and quantities of goods that can enter Gaza.

Egypt’s control of the Sinai Peninsula, where the Rafah Crossing is located, plays a crucial role in the crossing’s operation. Egypt has its own interests in ensuring stability in the region and preventing the spillover of violence into its territory. This means that Egypt often cooperates with Israel in controlling the crossing, even while being sensitive to Palestinian needs.

The Rafah Border Crossing’s operation is also intricately tied to the internal dynamics within the Palestinian territories, further complicating its use due to the division between the West Bank and Gaza, governed by different Palestinian entities.

In the midst of this crisis, the death toll in Gaza has risen significantly, with over 900 Palestinians killed and thousands more injured due to Israeli airstrikes.

Israel has demonstrated its determination to dismantle Hamas’ influence in Gaza, a response to an unprecedented attack where militants targeted civilians in their homes, on the streets, and even at a large outdoor music festival, leading to the capture of several people, in addition to those killed and injured.

Notably, at least 1,200 Israelis lost their lives in the Hamas operation.

Israel contends that Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza are holding around 150 hostages.

On Tuesday, Israel escalated its offensive by increasing the mobilization of reservists to 360,000. Israel’s military stated that it had effectively reclaimed control over the areas in the south that were attacked by Hamas and over the Gaza border.

The situation also escalated with new exchanges of gunfire along Israel’s northern borders with militants in Lebanon and Syria on Tuesday underscoring the potential for a broader regional conflict.

With agencies

Read more:

Israel air strikes kill at least 900 Palestinians, turn Gaza neighborhoods to rubble

Al Aqsa Flood: How a secretive Hamas commander masterminded the attack on Israel

Factbox: What is the Rafah border crossing point between Gaza and Egypt?

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