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Egypt deploys military convoys to Gaza border as tensions with Israel flare

Armoured personnel carriers have been spotted travelling to Egypt's border with Gaza, as President Sisi implies Israel is 'delusional'
Egyptian tanks are deployed near the Rafah crossing with Gaza, on 31 October 2023 (AFP)
Egyptian tanks are deployed near the Rafah crossing with Gaza, on 31 October 2023 (AFP)

Egypt deployed additional armoured personnel carriers and soldiers to its border with Gaza in northeastern Sinai this week as an Israeli ground operation in neighbouring Rafah appears imminent, a rights group said.

Fifteen armoured personnel carriers mounted with combat gear were spotted by Sinai residents of Sheikh Zuweid travelling toward Egypt’s border with Gaza on Wednesday evening, the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights said on Thursday.

Separately, another convoy of armoured vehicles arrived in the village of Al-Joura, south of Sheikh Zuweid, the foundation said.

The deployment comes amid a deepening rift between Egypt and Israel over the latter's offensive on Rafah, the southern Gaza border city. Last week, Israel seized the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and launched military operations in the city where around 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

The attack riled Egypt, which has a 45-year peace treaty with Israel and cooperates closely on security matters. An Egyptian military source told Middle East Eye last week that there had been "no operation coordination" between Egypt and Israel before the crossing was attacked.

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Humanitarian aid deliveries into Gaza have ground to a halt as a result of Israel’s seizure of the Rafah crossing, and Egypt has rebuffed Israel's requests to reopen the crossing, with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi saying Israel wants to use control of Rafah "to tighten the siege of the enclave”.

Meanwhile, Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Cairo was holding Gaza "hostage" by refusing to work with Israel to reopen the crossing. The crossing had been jointly controlled by Egypt and Hamas prior to Israel's operation on 7 May.

Sisi weighs in on spat

The diplomatic spat between Egypt and Israel has been deepening for days.

The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday cited Egyptian officials as saying that Cairo is considering a downgrade to bilateral ties with Israel, including withdrawing their ambassador.

Egypt announced it will join South Africa in its case against Israel at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of committing genocide. Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has accused Israel of blocking aid to Gaza.

'Those who think that security and military solutions are able to secure interests or achieve security [are] delusional'

- President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

But diplomats and analysts have been watching to see if the verbal spat spills over into the delicate security and defence relationship that is managed by Egypt’s military and intelligence officers.

The deployment of additional troops to Sinai would mark a serious escalation in the spat, a former senior western diplomat told MEE.

The troop movements come as Sisi weighs into the dispute for the first time. On Thursday, at an Arab League summit in Bahrain, he said Israel was evading a ceasefire in Gaza.

"We found Israel continuing to escape its responsibilities and evade efforts exerted to reach a ceasefire," he said.

"Those who think that security and military solutions are able to secure interests or achieve security [are] delusional.”

Egypt, along with Qatar, has also been one of the main mediators in ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas.

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