Egypt is threatening to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if Israeli troops are sent into the densely populated Gaza border town of Rafah, where it fears fighting could force the closure of the besieged territory’s main aid supply route, two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat said Sunday.
The threat to suspend the Camp David Accords, a cornerstone of regional stability for nearly a half-century, came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said sending troops into Rafah was necessary to win the four-month war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas. He said Hamas still has four battalions there.
Over half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled to Rafah to escape fighting in other areas, and they are packed into sprawling tent camps and U.N.-run shelters near the border. Egypt fears a mass influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who may never be allowed to return.
Netanyahu told “Fox News Sunday” that there’s “plenty of room north of Rafah for them to go to” after Israel’s offensive elsewhere in Gaza, and said Israel would direct evacuees with “flyers, with cellphones and with safe corridors and other things.”
The standoff between Israel and Egypt, two close U.S. allies, took shape as aid groups warned that an offensive in Rafah would worsen the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, where around 80% of residents have fled their homes and where the U.N. says a quarter of the population faces starvation.
A ground operation in Rafah could cut off one of the only avenues for delivering Gaza’s badly needed food and medical supplies.
Hamas’ Al-Aqsa television 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 cease-fire and the release of Israeli hostages.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry warned Saturday of “very serious repercussions of storming and targeting” the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
“The Kingdom affirms its categorical rejection and strong condemnation of their forcible deportation, and renews its demand for an immediate ceasefire,” the ministry said in a statement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directed Israel’s military to plan for the “evacuation of the population” from Rafah, meaning an estimated 1.3 million people, many of whom were already displaced from other parts of the enclave and say they have nowhere to go.
The Saudi ministry said targeting Rafah amounts to a violation of international law and “confirms the need for an urgent convening of the UN Security Council to prevent Israel from causing an imminent humanitarian disaster.”