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Cairo warns Israel against control of Egypt-Gaza buffer zone

Israeli army armored personnel carrier heads out on patrol along the Philadelphi Corridor on the Egyptian border, southern Gaza Strip, Sept. 11, 2005. (Photo: REUTERS/David Silverman/Pool)

The Egyptian government warned Jerusalem on Monday that an Israeli military takeover of the Philadelphi corridor would harm bilateral relations between the two nations.

The Philadelphi corridor is a strategically important, 14-km-long (about 8.5 mile) buffer area, along the border between Egyptian Sinai and the Gaza Strip.

“It must be strictly emphasized that any Israeli move in this direction will lead to a serious threat to Egyptian-Israeli relations,” said Egypt’s Chief of State Information Services (SIS) Diaa Rashwan.

Israel controlled the corridor until former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew all Israeli forces and civilians (over 9,000 people) from the Gaza Strip in 2005. As the only border that Israel no longer controlled, Hamas and its ally, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were able to smuggle significant amounts of weaponry through tunnel networks running below the corridor.

In response to Israel’s criticism that Egypt has failed to secure the border, Rashwan argued: “There are three barriers between Sinai and Palestinian Rafah, with which any smuggling operation is impossible, neither above ground nor underground.”

Rashwan also referred to the demolition of thousands of terror tunnels by Egypt. About a decade ago, Egypt faced a similar challenge to the one Israel is currently facing, when ISIS terrorists used Hamas’ tunnels.

In late October, a national security and foreign policy research institution based in Washington, D.C. confirmed that the Philadelphi corridor has played a crucial role in arming Hamas.

Jose Tuzman, a research analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), wrote in the Long War Journal: “Hamas smuggling tunnels below the Philadelphia route raise two challenges for Israel, as they enable the illicit transit of weaponry into Gaza and may facilitate the escape of Hamas leaders, thus circumventing Israeli apprehension or attacks.” 

While the Egyptian government has taken a firm line on its resident terror group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was established in the 1930s, widespread anti-Israel sentiments among the Egyptian population likely forced Cairo to issue hostile public statements. In addition, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Israel has said it does not seek to permanently control the Gaza Strip, but has set the dismantling of Hamas as one of its main objectives in the current war. Israel is currently conducting wide military operations in Khan Younis, a Hamas stronghold.

IDF forces have so far largely refrained from targeting Rafah, another terrorist stronghold on the border with Egypt. In December, the Israeli Air Force conducted a rare aerial bombing of Hamas targets in the sensitive Rafah area.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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