Cairo — Egyptian officials have lashed out over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that Israel will have to take control of a roughly 100-yard buffer zone on the Gaza side of the war-torn Palestinian territory’s 9-mile-long border with Egypt. Israeli officials have said smuggling across that buffer, known as the Philadelphi Corridor, both above ground and through tunnels, has provided Gaza’s Hamas rulers with weapons and other supplies — allegations that Egypt vehemently denies.
“The Philadelphi Corridor — or to put it more correctly, the southern stoppage point [of the Gaza Strip] — must be in our hands. It must be shut,” Netanyahu said at the end of December, warning that his country’s war against Hamas, sparked by the group’s brutal Oct. 7 attack on Israel, would go on for many months. “It is clear that any other arrangement would not ensure the demilitarization that we seek.”
The Head of Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS), Diaa Rashwan, lashed out Monday at Netanyahu’s declaration as “an attempt to create legitimacy” for what he said was the Israeli government’s real goal of occupying the border corridor in violation of security agreements signed between the two neighbors.
Rashwan warned that any attempt by Israeli forces start occupying the corridor would “lead to a serious threat to Egyptian-Israeli relations.”
“Egypt is capable of defending its interests and sovereignty over its land and borders and will not leave it in the hands of a group of extremist Israeli leaders who seek to drag the region into a state of conflict and instability,” Rashwan said, calling it a “red line” that Israel must not cross.
It was the second such red line drawn by Egypt, after it previously declared a “categorical rejection of [Israel] forcibly or voluntarily displacing our Palestinian brothers” from Gaza to Egypt’s northeast Sinai peninsula, which borders the small coastal territory.
“The true essence of Israel’s claims,” the statement from the State Information Service said, “is to justify its continuation of collective punishment, killing, and starvation of more than 2 million Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip, which it has practiced for 17 years.”
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The statement urged the Israeli government to conduct “serious investigations within its army, state agencies, and sectors of society, to search for those truly involved in smuggling weapons to Gaza, from inside, for the purpose of profit,” adding a claim that “many of the weapons currently inside the Gaza Strip are the result of smuggling from inside Israel.”
Rashwan accused Israel of using his country as a scapegoat, “due to its successive failures in achieving its declared goals for the war on Gaza.”
Ahmed Shawkat is a CBS News producer based in Cairo.