Israel’s border offensive in Gaza raises fears of prolonged conflict as tensions with Egypt simmer


Israel is in effective control of Gaza’s entire land border after taking control of a buffer zone along the border with Egypt, Israel’s military has said, a move that risks complicating its relationship with Egypt.

In a televised briefing on Wednesday, chief military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said Israeli forces had gained “operational” control over the Philadelphi Corridor, using the Israeli military’s code name for the 14km-long corridor along the Gaza Strip’s only border with Egypt.

Hagari did not spell out what “operational” control referred to, but an Israeli military official earlier said there were Israeli “boots on the ground” along parts of the corridor. The border with Egypt along the southern edge was Gaza’s only land border that Israel had not controlled directly.

“The Philadelphi Corridor served as an oxygen line for Hamas, which it regularly used to smuggle weapons into the area of the Gaza Strip,” Hagari said, claiming that troops had “discovered around 20 tunnels” in the area.

Egypt’s state-linked Al-Qahera News reported a “high-level Egyptian source” as saying that Israel was using claims of tunnels under Egypt’s border with Gaza as cover for its Rafah offensive.

“There is no truth to Israeli media reports of the existence of tunnels on the Egyptian border with Gaza,” the source told Al-Qahera, which is linked to state intelligence. “Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes.”

Egypt has previously said it has destroyed hundreds of cross-border tunnels with Gaza since 2013.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said seizure of the Philadelphi Corridor would be consistent with the “limited” ground operation Israeli officials briefed President Joe Biden’s team on for the city of Rafah.

“When they briefed us on their plans for Rafah it did include moving along that corridor and out of the city proper to put pressure on Hamas in the city,” Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

The Philadelphi corridor is part of a larger demilitarised zone along both sides of the entire Israel-Egypt border. Under a peace accord, each is allowed to deploy only a tiny number of troops or border guards in the zone. At the time of the accord, Israeli troops controlled Gaza.

Earlier this month, Israel and Egypt became embroiled in a diplomatic row after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) seized control of the Rafah crossing. The capture of the corridor signals that Israel has deepened its offensive in southern Gaza and further threatens relations with Egypt.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, Israel sent tanks on raids into Rafah, after moving into the heart of the city for the first time on Tuesday despite an order from the top United Nations court to immediately halt the assault on the city.

As Israel expanded its offensive in Rafah, a top Israeli official said that Israel’s war with Hamas is likely to last through to the end of the year.

National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told Kan public radio he was “expecting another seven months of fighting” to destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group.

“The army is achieving its objectives but [it] said from the first days it was presenting its plan to the cabinet that the war will be long,” he said. “They have designated 2024 as a year of war.”

Guardian, Reuters, AFP and AP

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