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Israel-Palestine: Egypt prepares for cross-border influx of wounded Palestinians from Gaza

Health officials tell MEE that hospitals northeast of the country are gearing up to receive casualties of Israel's ongoing onslaught on the besieged enclave
Palestinian children who fled their home due to Israeli air and artillery strikes wave a national flag at a school hosting refugees in Gaza city, on 14 May, 2021 (AFP)
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Hospitals in Egypt's North Sinai, near the border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, and Ismailia, near the Suez Canal, have made preparations to receive the victims of Israeli air strikes on Gaza, Egyptian government officials told Middle East Eye.

Israeli air strikes, ongoing since 10 May, have so far killed over 120 Gaza residents, including 31 children, and wounded over 900, according to the Health Ministry in the besieged Palestinian coastal enclave. 

'We have given clear instructions to hospitals, especially in North Sinai, to be prepared for the arrival of injured victims from the Gaza Strip,'

- Mohsen Taha, assistant minister of health, Egypt

Gaza's hospitals and medical professionals are struggling to respond to the needs of the casualties, but some of these victims are expected to arrive in Egypt for treatment via the shared border between Gaza and Sinai.

The General Authority for Healthcare, an executive arm of the Egyptian Ministry of Health, said on Friday that it had made preparations for treating Gaza's wounded victims who were expected to arrive in Egypt in the next few hours. 

The authority's head Ahmed al-Sobki told MEE on Friday that three major health facilities in Ismailia were ready to receive Gaza's victims and offer them the necessary care. 

Egyptian hospitals are busy responding to the Covid-19 pandemic as local medical teams work breathlessly to cope up with growing daily infections. 

However, Israel's attacks on Gaza and the expected rising death toll are raising the alarm inside health facilities in Egypt, especially in North Sinai and Ismailia. 

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Medical teams from different universities, including in the capital Cairo, have already left to North Sinai and Ismailia to assist in responding to the needs of the Palestinians. 

The hospital administrations in North Sinai and Ismailia have canceled out the vacations of their staff, including doctors and nurses, according to Sobki. 

He said he had ordered the hospital administrations in Ismailia to ensure the presence of sufficient stocks of blood in their blood banks and the required medical equipment for intervention. 

"Our hospitals are ready for receiving Gaza's Palestinians and providing them with care," Sobki told MEE. 

North Sinai's health directorate has designated several hospitals in the cities of Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid for responding to the needs of Gaza's wounded victims. 

The directorate's head Tarek Shouka said these hospitals had already completed their preparations in this regard. 

"We have also deployed paramedics in different areas close to the border with Gaza so that they can transfer the victims to the hospitals as soon as they arrive," Shouka told MEE. 

He noted that victims in critical conditions would have to be transferred to hospitals in Cairo for treatment. 

Egyptians condemn Gaza raids

Egypt was the first Arab country to formally recognise Israel in 1979, and has officially backed the normalisation deals between Israel and its Arab allies last year despite opposition from the Palestinians. 

However, Egyptian civil society has maintained an independent pro-Palestine stance, and has voiced its solidarity with the besieged Gaza Strip during successive Israeli wars. 

Mosque preachers leading the weekly Friday prayers across Egypt on 14 May called for international action to stop what they described as "Israeli aggressions" against the Palestinians and violations against the al-Aqsa Mosque, which has special importance for Muslims around the world, being the third holiest site in Islam.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the most influential religious institution in the Sunni Islamic world, called for supporting the Palestinians in the face of Israeli attacks. 

"I call on the world's peoples and leaders to support the peaceful and oppressed Palestinian people in their legitimate and just cause towards recovering their right, their land and their sanctuaries," Sheikh al-Tayyeb wrote on Twitter. 

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Egypt's former mufti, a top religious authority, Ali Gomaa called for liberating Jerusalem. 

"Our betrayal of Jerusalem will be a cursed act," Gomaa said

Ordinary Egyptians reacted with enthusiasm to the "Open the Rafah Crossing" hashtag, by calling on Egyptian authorities to open the border crossing with the Gaza Strip to allow the delivery of aid to Palestinians and give them speedy access to health facilities in Sinai.

Egypt said it would open the border crossing on Saturday to allow wounded Gaza residents to enter Sinai for treatment. 

Meanwhile, the Egyptian government ramped up pressure on Palestinians and Israelis to stop their escalation and bring about calm. 

An Egyptian delegation visited Gaza and is now in Tel Aviv, trying to convince the two sides to agree to a truce and a suspension of attacks. 

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is also engaged in intensive diplomatic contacts to bring the ongoing crisis to an end. 

Overwhelmed health infrastructure

Gaza's hospitals, already beset by Covid-19, are struggling to respond to the emergency created by Israeli attacks.  

Israeli air strikes have left a large number of the buildings of Gaza in ruins and health facilities across the territory, which is inhabited by around two million people, are scrambling to cope up with the flow of wounded victims. 

Gaza's heath activists are expressing fears that continued Israeli attacks would leave the strip's health facilities incapable of responding to the demand. 

'[Gaza] hospitals will be overwhelmed in the coming hours if Israel steps up its attacks,'

- Aed Yaghi, head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society

"The hospitals will be overwhelmed in the coming hours if Israel steps up its attacks," Aed Yaghi, the head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, one of the largest health NGOs operating in Gaza, told MEE. "This means that these hospitals will fall short of offering services to all the wounded victims arriving."

Egypt has always tried to respond to the needs of the Palestinians of Gaza, especially during Israeli onslaughts on the Palestinian territory, being the closest Arab state to the blockaded territory. 

Egyptian hospitals received hundreds of Gaza's wounded victims during Israeli attacks in 2014. The hospitals did the same during Israeli attacks in 2018 and 2019. 

"Some of the patients were in very critical conditions, testifying to the intensity of the attacks on Gaza at the time," Sherin Sayed, a nurse who participated in providing aid at one of Cairo's hospitals to Gaza's wounded victims during Israel's 2014 onslaught told MEE.

"We offered them all the required support." 

Doctors register to volunteer

Egyptian health authorities said the hospitals would be ready to respond to the needs of Gaza's patients this time as well. 

"We have given clear instructions to hospitals, especially in North Sinai, to be prepared for the arrival of wounded victims from the Gaza Strip," Mohsen Taha, the assistant minister of health, told MEE. 

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The Egyptian Doctors Syndicate, the independent union of the nation's doctors, has asked its members who wanted to volunteer by travelling to North Sinai to respond to the medical needs of the Palestinians to send in their names. 

"We have been following the latest developments in the Palestinian territories with utmost concern," the association said

It called on the international community to intervene to prevent Israeli attacks on Palestinians.

Union officials also said they would send medical supplies to Gaza across the joint border. 

So far, 86 doctors have submitted applications to travel to North Sinai or to Gaza to help in responding to the needs of the wounded, the union said. 

"I am sure hundreds of other doctors will send their names in the coming few hours," union head Osama Abdel Hay told MEE.