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EGYPT could suspend its peace treaty with Israel if Israeli forces are sent into the densely populated town of Rafah on the Gaza Strip’s southern border, two Egyptian officials and the European Union’s foreign policy chief said today.
The threat to freeze the 1978 Camp David Accords followed a claim by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that sending troops into Rafah was necessary to win the four-month war against Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The Egyptian officials also warned that fighting there could force the closure of the besieged territory’s main route for deliveries of food aid and medical supplies.
Over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled to Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere and are now packed into sprawling tent camps and United Nations shelters near the border.
“An Israeli offensive on Rafah would lead to an unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe and grave tensions with Egypt,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter.
Egyptian officials fear that if the border is breached, the military would be unable to stop hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees fleeing into the Sinai peninsula, with Israel never allowing them to return.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries have also warned of severe repercussions if Israeli forces advance into Rafah.
Hamas’s al-Aqsa TV station quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying that any invasion of Rafah would “blow up” talks mediated by the United States, Egypt and Qatar aimed at achieving a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages.
Mr Netanyahu asserted that Hamas still has four battalions there.
“Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying lose the war, keep Hamas there,” he said in a US TV interview.
The Israeli prime minister suggested that Palestinians in Rafah could flee north, claiming that there were “plenty of areas” that have been cleared by the army and that Israel was developing a “detailed plan” to relocate civilians.
But Israel’s offensive has caused widespread destruction, particularly in northern Gaza, and heavy fighting is still taking place in central Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said today that the bodies of 112 people killed in the territory had been brought to hospitals in the past 24 hours, as well as 173 wounded, bringing the death toll to 28,176 since the start of the war, most of them women and children.
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