Israel and Egypt trade blame over Rafah Crossing closure

By Thomson Reuters May 14, 2024 | 11:58 AM

By Maytaal Angel and Nayera Abdallah

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Tuesday that it was up to Egypt to reopen the Rafah Crossing and allow humanitarian relief into the Gaza Strip, prompting Cairo to denounce what it described as an attempt to shift the blame for the blockage of aid deliveries.

The Rafah Crossing is on the border between Egypt and southern Gaza, and has been a vital route for aid going into the coastal territory.

“The key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends,” Israel’s Foreign Affairs Minister Katz said in comments circulated to reporters.

Katz said he had spoken with his British and German counterparts about “the need to persuade Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing”, adding he would also speak with Italy’s foreign minister later on Tuesday.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has been running Gaza, will not “control the Rafah crossing”, Katz said, citing security concerns over which Israel “will not compromise”.

The comments drew a swift response from Egypt’s foreign ministry, which said in a statement that Israel was responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and that Israel’s military operations around Rafah were the main reason aid had been prevented from entering the enclave.

Egypt has consistently said the crossing has remained open from its side throughout the conflict that began between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7.

Cairo has been one of the mediators in stalled ceasefire talks, but its relationship with Israel has come under strain since Israeli forces seized the Rafah Crossing on May 7.

The United Nations and other international aid agencies said the closing of two crossings into southern Gaza – Rafah and Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom – had virtually cut the enclave off from outside aid.

The U.N. had already warned, prior to the closing of the two crossings, that Gaza is on the brink of famine.

Israel launched its current Gaza offensive following an attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas-led gunmen who rampaged through Israeli communities near the enclave, killing some 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The Palestinian death toll in the war has now surpassed 35,000, according to Gaza health officials.

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel in Jerusalem, Nayera Abdallah and Jana Choukeir in Dubai; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Gareth Jones)