Displacement of Palestinians from embattled Gaza confronts Egypt with array of challenges 

Special Displacement of Palestinians from embattled Gaza confronts Egypt with array of challenges 
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Displaced Palestinian children pull containers for water supply at their tent camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt on April 26, 2024. (AFP)
Special Displacement of Palestinians from embattled Gaza confronts Egypt with array of challenges 
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Egyptians take part in a demonstration in downtown Cairo on October 18, 2023, protesting a strike on a Gaza hospital which killed hundreds a day earlier. (AFP)
Special Displacement of Palestinians from embattled Gaza confronts Egypt with array of challenges 
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A Palestinian man ferries water at a makeshift camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 4, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 29 April 2024
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Displacement of Palestinians from embattled Gaza confronts Egypt with array of challenges 

Displacement of Palestinians from embattled Gaza confronts Egypt with array of challenges 
  • Egyptians feel morally obliged to help Palestinians but wary of a mass influx through Rafah
  • Officials in Cairo see large-scale expulsion by Israel as death knell for Palestinian statehood

CAIRO: More than 1 million Palestinian refugees have found their last refuge in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city on the Egyptian border, where they grimly await a widely expected Israeli offensive against Hamas holdouts in the area.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians, many of them with the help of family members already outside Gaza, have managed to cross the border into Egypt, where they remain in a state of limbo, wondering if they will ever return home.

For its part, the Egyptian government faces the prospect of a mass influx of Palestinians from Gaza into Sinai should Israel ignore international appeals to drop its plan to strike Hamas commanders in Rafah.




Egyptians had been sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians, despite their own economic woes. (AFP)

Although the Egyptian public is sympathetic to the Palestinian plight, shouldering the responsibility of hosting refugees from Gaza is fraught with security implications and economic costs, thereby posing a difficult dilemma.

Furthermore, despite taking in refugees from Sudan, Yemen and Syria, the Egyptian government has been cautious about permitting an influx of Palestinians, as officials fear the expulsion of Gazans would destroy any possibility of a future Palestinian state.

“Egypt has reaffirmed and is reiterating its vehement rejection of the forced displacement of the Palestinians and their transfer to Egyptian lands in Sinai,” Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the Egyptian president, told a peace summit in Cairo last November.




Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi (C) and regional and some Western leaders pose for a family picture during the International Peace Summit near Cairo on October 21, 2023, amid fighting between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Egyptian Presidency handout photo/AFP)

Such a plan would “mark the last gasp in the liquidation of the Palestinian cause, shatter the dream of an independent Palestinian state, and squander the struggle of the Palestinian people and that of the Arab and Islamic peoples over the course of the Palestinian cause that has endured for 75 years,” he added.

Additionally, if Palestinians now living in Rafah are uprooted by an Israeli military offensive, Egypt would be left to carry the burden of a massive humanitarian crisis, at a time when the country is confronting daunting economic challenges.




Seen on a large screen, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi (R) welcomes Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas to the International 'Summit for Peace' near Cairo on October 21, 2023. (AFP)

Although Egypt earlier this year landed its largest foreign investment from the UAE, totaling some $35 billion, experts believe that the economic crisis is far from over, with public debt in 2023 totaling more than 90 percent of gross domestic product and the local currency falling 38 percent against the dollar.

Salma Hussein, a senior researcher in economy and public policies in Egypt, believes Egypt is not in the clear yet.

“We are slightly covered but we will need more money flowing in and bigger investments,” she told Arab News. “We also have large sums of debt we need to pay back. The IMF pretty much recycled our debt and we have interest rates to cover.

“In times of political instability, we see a lot of dollars leaving the country in both legal and illegal ways. This happened in 2022 and it also happened during the last presidential elections in 2023.

“I think the same thing will happen again now due to what’s happening in the region. This is all a loss of capital which can affect us.”




Displaced Palestinian children chat with an Egyptian soldier standing guard behind the fence between Egypt and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 26, 2024. (AFP)

She is confident foreign assistance will be offered. And although the cost of hosting refugees will be high, there are many economic benefits to be had from absorbing another population — even for the Arab world’s most populous country.

“Egypt is too big to fail,” said Hussein. “There will be a bailout of its economy when it’s in deep trouble. And while investments and loans might not turn into prosperity, they will at least keep the country afloat. This is where we are now.

“As for the presence of a growing number of Palestinian refugees, I don’t think any country in the world had its economy damaged by accepting refugees. On the contrary, it might actually benefit from a new workforce, from educated young people, and from wealthy people who are able to relocate their money to their country of residence.”

FASTFACTS

1.1 million+ Palestinians who have sought refuge in Rafah from fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

14 Children among 18 killed in Israeli strikes on Rafah on April 20.

34,000 Total death toll of Palestinians in Israel-Hamas war since Oct. 7, 2023.

However, it is not just the economic consequences of a Palestinians influx that is unnerving Egyptian officials. This wave of refugees would likely include a substantial number of Hamas members, who might go on to fuel local support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamas shares strong ideological links with the Muslim Brotherhood, which briefly controlled Egypt under the presidency of Mohamed Morsi in 2012-13 and has since been outlawed.

Since Morsi was forced from power, the country has been targeted by Islamist groups, which have launched attacks on Egyptian military bases in the Sinai Peninsula. The government is concerned that these Islamist groups could recruit among displaced Palestinians.




In this photo taken on July 4, 2014, Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood movement gather in Cairo mark the first anniversary of the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi. Egyptian authorities are wary of an influx of Palestinian refugees into Egyptian territory as some of them could be Hamas extremists allied with the Brotherhood movement. (AFP/File photo)

The decision might be out of Egypt’s hands, however. Several members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government have publicly called for the displacement and transfer of Palestinians in Gaza into neighboring countries.

Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, previously said that the departure of the Palestinians would make way for “Israelis to make the desert bloom” — meaning the land’s reoccupation by Israeli settlers.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s minister of security, also said: “We yelled and we warned, if we don’t want another Oct. 7, we need to return home and control the land.”




Maps showing the changes in Israel's borders since 1947. ( AFP)

Up to 100,000 Palestinians live in Egypt, many of them survivors of the Nakba of 1948 and their descendants. Their numbers steadily rose when Gamal Abdel Nasser came into power in 1954 and permitted Palestinians to live and work in the country.

However, matters changed after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Palestinians became foreign nationals, excluded from state services and no longer granted the automatic right to residency.

The precise number of Palestinians who have arrived in Egypt since the Gaza war began after Oct. 7 has not been officially recorded.




Palestinians and dual nationality holders fleeing from Gaza arrive on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip on December 5, 2023, amid an Israeli offensive on the Palestinian enclave. (AFP)

Those who have made it to Egypt, where they are hosted by sympathetic Egyptian families, fear they will be permanently displaced if Israel does not allow them back into Gaza. Many now struggle financially, having lost their homes and livelihoods during the war.

For host families, this act of charity is an additional burden on their own stretched finances. “We feel for the Palestinians but our hands are tied,” one Egyptian host in Cairo, who asked to remain anonymous, told Arab News.

“I am struggling financially myself, but I cannot bring myself to ask for rent from a man who lost his entire family and now lives with his sole surviving daughters.”

On the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, trucks carrying aid and consumer goods are idling in queues stretching for miles, waiting for Israeli forces to permit entry and the distribution of vital cargo.

Many of the Egyptian truckers waiting at the border are paid to do so by the state. “We get salaries from the government and they provide us with basic food and water as we wait here,” one driver told Arab News on condition of anonymity.




Trucks with humanitarian aid wait to enter the Palestinian side of Rafah on the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip. (AFP)

Israel has been limiting the flow of aid into Gaza since the war began, leading to shortages of essentials in the embattled enclave. Although Israel and Washington say the amount of aid permitted to enter has increased, UN agencies claim it is still well below what is needed.

Meanwhile, the truck drivers are forced to wait, many of them sleeping in their cabs or carrying makeshift beds with them. “I’d do this with or without a salary,” the trucker said. “Those are our brothers and sisters who are starving and dying.”

With events in Gaza out of their control, all Egyptians feel they can do is help in whatever small way they can — and hope that the war ends soon without a Palestinian exodus.

“It is unfathomable to me that we are carrying life-saving equipment and food literally just hours away from a people subjected to a genocide, and there are yet no orders to enter Gaza through the border,” the truck driver said.

“It shames me. I park here and I wait, and continue to wait. I will not leave until I unburden this load, which has become a moral duty now more than anything.”
 

 


Beirut airport busy with Eid visitors despite tense security situation

Beirut airport busy with Eid visitors despite tense security situation
Updated 15 June 2024
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Beirut airport busy with Eid visitors despite tense security situation

Beirut airport busy with Eid visitors despite tense security situation
  • Motorcyclist killed in Israeli drone strike as Hezbollah keeps up retaliatory attacks
  • Festival brings challenges for Lebanese forced to flee their homes

BEIRUT: Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport witnessed an influx of arrivals on Saturday as Lebanese expatriates and tourists ignored the hostilities in the south and traveled to celebrate the Eid Al-Adha holiday.

European embassies had earlier issued warnings against visiting Lebanon because of the tense security situation, but these failed to deter expatriates and visitors, mainly from Iraq and Egypt, arriving for Eid.

On the eve of the holiday, there was a noticeable discrepancy in the prices of sacrificial animals in the Lebanese market, along with an unjustified increase in meat prices.

Majed Eid, secretary of the Syndicate of Butchers, Importers, and Traders of Live Livestock, said that imports of sacrificial animals from abroad had fallen this year compared with previous years.

The security situation in the Tyre area has led to reduced shopping activities as Eid approaches, despite the substantial influx of expatriates who typically boost commercial and economic activity there.

Tyre Traders Association Secretary Ghazwan Halawani said that the preparations for Eid seemed ordinary, with no noticeable improvement in commercial activity, sales, or market visitors.

He attributed the decline to anxiety over military operations on the border and Israeli attacks on civilians.

On the eve of Eid Al-Adha, thousands of families from the southern region headed to their villages near the border despite the hostilities.

Issa, a butcher, planned to spend the holiday with his family, even though his area had been sporadically shelled in the past few months.

“Nothing will happen to us except what God has destined for us,” he said.

The Eid holiday will be challenging for the people of the south, especially those who fled their villages eight months ago.

Eid Al-Adha presents significant challenges for the displaced southerners, with almost 100,000 people forced to leave their villages.

Nabatieh Gov. Hwaida Turk told Arab News that 65 towns in Nabatieh Governorate had been subjected to “systematic shelling and fires due to Israeli attacks.”

Some towns were almost destroyed, she said.

Turk said that residents of the front-line towns, especially in the Marjayoun and Hasbaya areas, did not return for Eid.

However, villages and towns to the rear are crowded with displaced people alongside their original inhabitants.

She said the people in the southern region tried to celebrate Eid with hope despite the difficult economic conditions.

Hezbollah kept up retaliatory attacks on Israel on Saturday, days after an airstrike killed one of its commanders.

Aerial attacks on both sides escalated, with Hezbollah saying that it carried out an attack “with a fleet of suicide drones on the Khirbet Maer base, destroying part of it.”

The attack was in response to the killing of a senior Hezbollah commander, Sami Hassan Taleb, nicknamed Abu Taleb, along with three others, in an Israeli attack on their location in Jouaiyya several days ago.

Israeli Army Radio reported that a fire erupted in the Goren settlement in western Galilee after several Hezbollah drones struck the area.

As part of the escalation, Hezbollah targeted the headquarters of the air surveillance and operations management unit at the Meron base.

Israeli media outlets said that “two anti-armor missiles launched from the Meron base were targeted.”

Hezbollah said that it struck a group of Israeli soldiers at the Hadab Yaron site with a missile, killing or injuring several.

An Israeli military drone strike early on Saturday killed a motorcyclist at the Bint Jbeil–Maroun Ras intersection. Another person was injured in the resulting fire.

The outskirts of Deir Mimas and the Aaziyyeh Hill were subject to phosphorus shelling, causing fires to erupt in forests.

Israeli army spokesperson Avichay Adraee claimed that “an air force plane targeted a Hezbollah vandal in Aitaroun,” adding that “the Israeli army shelled the area with artillery.”

 

 


Palestinian teenager killed in West Bank raid

Palestinian teenager killed in West Bank raid
Updated 15 June 2024
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Palestinian teenager killed in West Bank raid

Palestinian teenager killed in West Bank raid
  • Israel has killed at least 37,296 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, as an army official confirmed troops opened fire during a raid.
Sultan Abdul Rahman Khatatbeh, 16, was killed by Israeli fire in the northern West Bank town of Beit Furik, the ministry said in a statement published on Facebook.
Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that two others were injured when Israeli forces stormed the town east of Nablus, “firing live bullets at local residents.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Sultan Abdul Rahman Khatatbeh, 16, was killed by Israeli fire in the northern West Bank town of Beit Furik.

• Two others were injured when Israeli forces stormed the town east of Nablus, ‘firing live bullets at local residents.’

An Israeli military official said that troops were operating in the Nablus area when “dozens of suspects hurled rocks at Israeli security forces, who responded with riot dispersal means and live fire.”
“Hits were identified,” the official said.
The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has seen a surge in violence for more than a year, particularly since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza erupted on Oct. 7.
At least 546 Palestinians have been killed in the territory by Israeli troops or settlers since the Gaza war broke out, according to Palestinian officials.
At least 37,296 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military campaign, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Also on Saturday, the armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad said the only way to return Israeli hostages is through Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, ending its offensive and reaching a deal for exchanging Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners.
The spokesman of Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian group, made the remarks in a video posted on Telegram.

 


‘Miscalculation’ could lead to wider Hezbollah-Israel conflict, say UN officials

‘Miscalculation’ could lead to wider Hezbollah-Israel conflict, say UN officials
Updated 49 min 24 sec ago
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‘Miscalculation’ could lead to wider Hezbollah-Israel conflict, say UN officials

‘Miscalculation’ could lead to wider Hezbollah-Israel conflict, say UN officials
  • “The danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real,” the two officials said
  • The United States and France are working on a negotiated settlement to the hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border

BEIRUT: There is a “very real” risk that a miscalculation along Lebanon’s southern border could trigger a wider conflict between Hezbollah and the Israeli military, two UN officials in Lebanon warned on Saturday.
The United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and the head of UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon, Aroldo Lazaro, said they were “deeply concerned” about the recent escalation along Lebanon’s border.
Iran-backed Hezbollah last week launched the largest volleys of rockets and drones yet in the eight months it has been exchanging fire with the Israeli military, in parallel with the Gaza war.
“The danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real,” the two officials said in a written statement on Saturday.
The United States and France are working on a negotiated settlement to the hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border. Hezbollah says it will not halt fire unless Israel’s military offensive on Gaza stops.


Egyptian president tours Prophet’s biography museum

Egyptian president tours Prophet’s biography museum
Updated 15 June 2024
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Egyptian president tours Prophet’s biography museum

Egyptian president tours Prophet’s biography museum
  • El-Sisi explored the various creative pavilions that illustrate aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life

RIYADH: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi visited the International Fair and Museum of the Prophet’s Biography and Islamic Civilization in Madinah, Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

During his tour on Friday, El-Sisi explored the various creative pavilions that illustrate aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life.

He viewed the panorama of the prophet’s chamber, which showcases authentic details of its construction and development through to the modern era.

El-Sisi was also introduced to a simulation of the Prophet’s pulpit, displayed through models and smart interactive screens. The exhibition highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts in serving the Qur’an and the Two Holy Mosques.

Expressing his admiration for the exhibition and museum project, El-Sisi extended his gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their efforts and hospitality.
 


8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza

8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza
Updated 15 June 2024
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8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza

8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza
  • The deaths will likely fuel calls for a ceasefire and heighten Israeli public anger over ultra-Orthodox exemptions from the military
  • In January, 21 Israeli troops were killed in a single attack by Palestinian militants in Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israel’s military said Saturday that eight soldiers were killed in southern Gaza in the deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months.
The troops were killed in an explosion, the army said, without elaborating. The deaths will likely fuel calls for a ceasefire and heighten Israeli public anger over ultra-Orthodox exemptions from the military.
In January, 21 Israeli troops were killed in a single attack by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Last month, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered an end to government subsidies for many ultra-Orthodox men who don’t serve in the army. A new draft law hasn’t been passed, but the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week voted in favor of extending exemptions for religious men. Although the vote was only procedural, it caused an uproar by being approved during a war in which hundreds of soldiers have died and many others remain inside Gaza or on the front lines against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Defense Minister and member of the country’s War Cabinet, has insisted that all sectors of Israeli society should contribute equally during its war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s coalition government contains a powerful bloc of ultra-Orthodox parties that have been longtime partners of Netanyahu. If these parties leave the government, the country would be forced into new elections, with Netanyahu trailing significantly in the polls amid the war.
In Tel Aviv, anti-government protests have been ongoing for months, with many demonstrators calling for the immediate return of the hostages, along with Netanyahu’s resignation.
Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who don’t give the breakdown of civilians and fighters. The war has also driven about 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring in humanitarian aid, fueling widespread hunger.
Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. More than 100 hostages were released during a weeklong ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.
Months of ceasefire negotiations have failed to find common ground between Israeli and Hamas. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Hamas proposed changes to a US-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.
Hamas has continually called for a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza as part of any deal that would see the hostages released. While the proposal announced by US President Joe Biden includes these two provisions, Hamas has expressed concern about whether Israel will commit to them.
Violence has flared in the West Bank since the Israel-Hamas war erupted. On Saturday, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli forces near the northern city of Nablus, the Ramallah-based Health Ministry said. The Israeli army didn’t immediately respond to request for comment about the shooting.