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Satellite photos show Egypt building Gaza wall as Israel’s Rafah push looms


A satellite image shows the construction of a wall along the Egypt-Gaza border near Rafah on February 15, 2024 [Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters]

Egypt is building a fortified buffer zone near its border with the Gaza Strip as fears mount of an imminent Israeli ground invasion of the southern city of Rafah, which could displace hundreds of thousands of Palestinians across the frontier, according to satellite images and media reports.

Footage from the site in the Sinai desert and satellite photos show that an area that could offer basic shelter to tens of thousands of Palestinians is being constructed with concrete walls being set up on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, the only non-Israeli-controlled crossing to and from Gaza.

The new compound is part of contingency plans if large numbers of Palestinians manage to cross into Egypt and could accommodate more than 100,000 people, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing Egyptian officials.

It is surrounded by concrete walls and far from any Egyptian settlements. Large numbers of tents have been delivered to the site, the report said.

Videos taken by the United Kingdom-based Sinai Foundation for Human Rights show trucks and bulldozers clearing debris from a plot of land of about 8sq miles (21sq km), according to The Washington Post, which obtained satellite images that show 2sq miles (5sq km) was cleared between February 6 and Wednesday.

Mohamed Abdelfadil Shousha, the governor of North Sinai, the Egyptian governorate that borders Gaza and Israel, has reportedly denied that Egypt is building a refugee camp along the border in case of an exodus by Palestinians forced by the Israeli military.

The Sinai Foundation, an activist organisation that has a monitoring team in northern Sinai, said in a report this week that the gated area will be surrounded by 7-metre-high (23ft-high) cement walls.


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The UN’s high commissioner for refugees said on Friday that a mass movement of people from Rafah into Egypt’s Sinai would be a disaster for Palestinians and prospects for peace in the Middle East.

“It would be a disaster for the Palestinians … a disaster for Egypt and a disaster for the future of peace,” Filippo Grandi told the Reuters news agency of Israel’s planned ground invasion of Rafah.

When asked whether Egyptian authorities had contacted the UNHCR about possible contingency plans he said: “The Egyptians said that people should be assisted inside Gaza and we are working on that.”

Israel has said it wants to take over the Philadelphi Corridor, the fortified border area between Gaza and Egypt, to secure it. Egypt has threatened that this would jeopardise the peace treaty the two countries signed four decades ago.

Cairo has emphasised that it does not want Palestinians to be displaced from their land by Israel, comparing such a scenario to the 1948 Nakba, the forced displacement of about 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in the war that led to Israel’s creation.

Tel Aviv’s insistence on going ahead with its planned attack on Rafah despite international pressure has been unshaken even though the area is where 1.4 million Palestinians are living, the vast majority of whom have been forcibly displaced – some multiple times – by Israeli bombardments and ground operations.

Palestinians displaced to Rafah are suffering from a lack of sufficient shelter, food, water and medicine, and the United Nations and human rights groups have warned that the humanitarian disaster in the besieged enclave is rapidly worsening.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the army to work on a plan of evacuation for more than half of the 2.3 million people of the Gaza Strip who are now crammed into Rafah, but has provided no detailed steps.

He has suggested Palestinians could be sent to areas north of Rafah that the Israeli military has already cleared through a ground invasion backed by bombings.

Avi Dichter, Israel’s minister of agriculture and rural development, has suggested areas west of Rafah and the bombed al-Mawasi refugee camp near the Mediterranean coast, where many are already sheltering.

But UN humanitarian aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Thursday that it would be an “illusion” to believe that people in Gaza could be evacuated to a safe place. He also said it would be “a sort of Egyptian nightmare” if Palestinians were to be forced into Egypt.

satellite imagery
A satellite image shows new construction and earth grading along the Egypt-Gaza border near Rafah on February 10, 2024 [Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters]

The United States and a number of other key allies of Israel have said they oppose a ground assault on Rafah, some warning it would be “catastrophic”.

US President Joe Biden “has been clear that we do not support the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza”, Reuters quoted a US Department of State spokesperson as saying on Friday. “The US is not funding camps in Egypt for displaced Palestinians.”

Israel on Wednesday pulled out of US- and Arab-mediated talks with Hamas because it said the Palestinian armed group has had “ludicrous demands” that have included Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.

Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet have continued to push for “total victory” with the prime minister calling Rafah the “last bastion” of Hamas.

For weeks, the fiercest fighting in the Gaza Strip has been taking place in Khan Younis, also located in southern Gaza, with the Israeli military claiming its attacks are aimed at destroying Hamas battalions in the area.

Using shelling, sniper fire and drones, the Israeli army has also for weeks been laying siege to Nasser Hospital, the largest medical facility in the area, which has hundreds of patients and staff and has been a shelter for thousands of displaced Palestinians.

Dr Nahed Abu Taima, the hospital’s director, told Al Jazeera on Friday that Israeli forces were rounding up patients and civilians and had cut off electricity to the medical complex.

“We stand helpless, unable to provide any form of medical assistance to the patients inside the hospital or the victims flooding into the hospital every single minute,” he said.

Israel’s attacks on Gaza have killed at least 28,775 Palestinians and wounded 68,552 since October 7, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. Several thousand more are missing, presumably buried under rubble.






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