Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi on Wednesday warned his armed forces and the general public to rein in their anger and enthusiasm, in an apparent reference to the outrage felt in Egypt at the Israeli military onslaught on neighbouring Gaza.
Speaking during an inspection of the Fourth Armoured Division of the Third Field Army in the Suez Governorate, some 15 km from Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip, Sisi said the role of his army is to protect his country’s borders and national security “without aggression”.
Meanwhile, he warned against acts resulting from “anger”, “enthusiasm”, and “illusions of power,” as thousands of Egyptians took to the streets on Friday to denounce Israel’s attacks and demand action from Sisi and Arab leaders.
The president’s speech comes as the ferocious Israeli military operation on Gaza enters its 19th day, with the death toll among Palestinians estimated to be at least 8,000, including the dead and people missing under the rubble of bombarded buildings.
Most of the casualties are women and children, according to Gaza health officials.
Egypt’s Rafah border crossing is the only gateway in and out of Gaza that is not controlled by Israel and is currently the only corridor for humanitarian aid.
Israel has bombarded the border crossing, both on the Palestinian and Egyptian sides, five times since the hostilities began between Israel and Gaza on 7 October following the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel.
The attack by Hamas and other Palestinian armed factions has killed around 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, and resulted in the captivity of at least 200 people.
Since the assault, Israel has imposed a complete siege on the already-blockaded strip, cutting off water, electricity, and fuel supplies.
These measures have been denounced by UN agencies and international human rights groups as unlawful “collective punishment” under international humanitarian law.
In his Wednesday speech, Sisi told members of the armed forces that Egypt should use its military powers wisely in the conflict.
“It’s very important when you have this sort of power that you use it reasonably… and you don’t overstep and have illusions about your own strength,” and stressed that Egypt is playing a “very positive role” in cooperation with “brothers, friends and partners” in an attempt to reach a ceasefire.
“Over the past 20 years, there have been approximately five rounds of conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip, or Hamas, or Islamic Jihad, or the groups present in the Gaza Strip. Five times. And Egypt’s role has always been positive in containing and calming the escalation and mitigating the effects of the conflict.”
Sisi added that the solution to the Palestinian issue will be a diplomatic solution, which is the two-state solution, stressing that the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital “gives hope to the Palestinians and at the same time takes into account security for both the Palestinian people and the Israeli people”.
Sisi also met with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Cairo later on Wednesday, and said in a press conference that both leaders agreed that the forced displacement of Gaza civilians to Egypt’s Sinai peninsula would be “extremely dangerous”.
Wednesday’s military exercise, Sisi said, had been planned to be held two weeks ago to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1973 war against Israel, but had been adjourned due to the latest hostilities.
Starvation as a method of war
The Israeli attacks on the Rafah border crossing have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as aid trucks continue to be stranded outside the crossing waiting for Israeli permission and assurances that the convoys would not be targeted.
Only 62 aid trucks loaded with medical supplies and food assistance have been allowed to enter in the past 19 days.
Oxfam warned in a statement Wednesday that Israel is using “starvation as a weapon of war” against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
The organisation has also found that just two percent of the food that would have been normally delivered has entered Gaza since the total siege.
Before the war, an average of 500 trucks used to enter Gaza daily. In total, Gaza should have received 9,500 trucks since 7 October – not including additional aid to compensate for losses from the air strikes.
“Despite 62 trucks of aid being allowed to enter southern Gaza via the Rafah crossing since the weekend, only 30 contained food and in some cases, not exclusively so. This amounts to just one truck every three hours and 12 minutes since Saturday,” Oxfam said.
“Millions of civilians are being collectively punished in full view of the world, there can be no justification for using starvation as a weapon of war,” Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam’s Mena director, said.
“World leaders cannot continue to sit back and watch, they have an obligation to act and to act now.”