Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Thursday that Gazans must “stay steadfast and remain on their land”, amid calls for Cairo to allow safe passage for civilians stuck in Gaza.
The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza is the only passage in and out of the coastal enclave not controlled by Israel.
Israel has bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since Saturday in reprisal for a shock Hamas attack on Israel that has killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and looks poised to send ground troops into Gaza where official have reported over 1,400 deaths.
Egypt is committed to ensuring the delivery “of aid, both medical and humanitarian at this difficult time”, Sisi said, affirming Cairo’s “firm position” of ensuring Palestinians’ “legitimate rights”.
But he stressed, in a speech at a military ceremony, that Gazans must “stay steadfast and remain on their land”.
The tiny coastal enclave home to 2.4 million people, already blockaded since 2007, is under siege by Israel which has cut off water, food and power supplies.
Six days of relentless Israeli air and artillery strikes have reduced entire districts to rubble.
Egypt, historically a key intermediary between Hamas and Israel, has called for donors to send humanitarian aid bound for Gaza to El Arish airport but has pushed against calls to allow fleeing Palestinians into its land.
In recent days, state-linked media has quoted high-level security sources warning against a mass exodus of Palestinians, who were being “forced to choose between death under Israeli bombing or displacement from their land”.
Egypt has pushed for a diplomatic solution and called for restraint from both sides, while Sisi has asserted his country’s national security was his “primary responsibility”.
On Thursday, he said that Egypt was already hosting “nine million guests, as I call them, from many countries who came to Egypt for security and safety”.
But the case of Gazans “is different”, he said, because their displacement would mean “the elimination of the (Palestinian) cause”.
Egypt was the first Arab state to normalise relations with Israel in 1979, after a six-year war that ended in 1973 with Egypt regaining the Sinai Peninsula from Israeli control.