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Gaza: Israel controls Philadelphia corridor to Egypt

Gaza: Israel controls Philadelphia corridor to Egypt
Israeli soldiers on a tank near the border between Israel and Gaza, in southern Israel, on May 29, 2024.   -  
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Tsafrir Abayov/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.


The Israeli military said Wednesday it had taken control of a strategic corridor along Gaza's border with Egypt to cut off smuggling tunnels, as it attempts to destroy the Hamas militant group in a war which is in its eighth month.

Seizing the Philadelphia Corridor could complicate Israel's relations with Egypt , which has complained about Israel's advance toward its border. Israel says the corridor is riddled with tunnels that have transported weapons and other goods for Hamas , despite a years-long blockade by Israel and Egypt.

Israel also stepped up its incursion into the southern Gaza town of Rafah , where hundreds of thousands of people have sought shelter from the fighting and where intensifying violence in recent days has killed dozens. Palestinians. The army said a fifth brigade, numbering up to several thousand troops, joined troops operating in the city on Tuesday.

Egypt believes that any troop build-up in the strategic border area would constitute a violation of the peace agreement concluded between the two countries in 1979. It has previously complained about Israel's takeover of the Rafah border crossing, the only crossing point between Gaza and Egypt.

“The Philadelphia corridor served as an oxygen line for Hamas, which regularly smuggled weapons into the Gaza Strip ,” said the spokesperson for the head of the Israeli armed forces, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari. .

Demilitarized zone

An Israeli military official said Israel had informed Egypt of the takeover. Around twenty tunnels, some unknown to Israel, were discovered, as well as 82 access points to these tunnels. It was not possible to know whether the tunnels were currently in use.

The corridor is part of a larger demilitarized zone that spans the entire border between Israel and Egypt. Under the peace agreement, each side is only allowed to deploy a small number of soldiers or border guards in the area, but this number can be changed by mutual agreement. At the time of the agreement, Israeli troops controlled Gaza, until Israel withdrew its forces and settlers in 2005.

Egypt's state broadcaster Al-Qahera News TV said there had been "no communication with the Israeli side" regarding the allegations of discovery of tunnels at the border. Egypt has repeatedly expressed fear that the Israeli offensive could push Palestinians across the border, a scenario Egypt considers unacceptable.

The narrow corridor - about 100 meters wide in places - stretches 14 kilometers on the Gaza side of the border with Egypt and includes the Rafah crossing point into Egypt. Hamas has had free access to the border since taking control of Gaza in 2007.


Smuggling tunnels have been dug under the Gaza-Egypt border to circumvent the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took power. Some of these tunnels were wide enough to accommodate vehicles. Hamas brought in weapons and supplies, and Gazans smuggled in commercial goods, from livestock to construction materials.

The situation has changed over the past decade, as Egypt battled Islamist militants in the Sinai. The Egyptian army attacked the tunnels and destroyed hundreds of them.

The military official said Israel had also taken "tactical control" of Tel al-Sultan, a neighborhood on the northwest edge of Rafah. However, he clarified that the incursion into the city remained an "operation of limited scope and scale" .

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the capture of the Philadelphia corridor would be consistent with the "limited" ground operation that Israeli officials briefed President Joe Biden 's team for the city ​​of Rafah.

"When they informed us of their plans for Rafah, they were planning to move along that corridor and out of the city to put pressure on Hamas in the city ," Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

"Long War"

Meanwhile, deadly violence continues. Gaza's health ministry said an Israeli strike apparently killed two paramedics who were preparing to evacuate the wounded in Tel al-Sultan.

Earlier in the day, a senior Israeli official said the war would likely last until the end of the year, a grim prediction for a conflict that has killed tens of thousands, deepened Israel's isolation around the world and put the region on the brink of a wider conflagration.

Israel's national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Kan public radio that he "expects seven more months of fighting" to destroy the military and administrative capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad , a group smaller activist.

The army declared from the start that "the war would be long" , he added. She designated the year 2024 as the year of war.

Mr Hanegbi's remarks raise questions about the future of Gaza and the role Israel will play there. The United States, Israel's main ally, has demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decide on a post-war vision for the Palestinian territory. Mr. Netanyahu's defense minister and one of his key government partners have warned him that he must take steps to prevent Israel from becoming bogged down indefinitely in the Gaza Strip .


The war has already devastated Gaza's urban landscape, displaced most of its population and caused a humanitarian catastrophe and widespread famine . It opened Israel to international legal scrutiny, with courts around the world criticizing it for its wartime conduct, sparked disagreements with the White House and, on Tuesday, prompted three European countries to formally recognize a Palestinian state .

Israel says it must dismantle the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah and will seek to exercise indefinite security control over the Gaza Strip even after the war ends. However, it has yet to achieve its main goals, namely the dismantling of Hamas and the return of dozens of hostages captured during the October 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war.

Beyond Rafah, Israeli forces continued to battle militants in parts of Gaza that the army said it took control of several months ago - potential signs of a small-scale insurgency that could maintain engagement of Israeli troops in the territory.

The fighting in Rafah has displaced a million people, according to the United Nations, most of whom were already displaced from other parts of Gaza.

"Red line"

Residents said fighting was ongoing in the city center and on the outskirts of Tel al-Sultan, the same neighborhood where an Israeli strike last weekend sparked a fire that ravaged a displaced people's encampment, causing dozens of deaths. Israel said it was investigating and that the fire may have been caused by a secondary explosion.

A floating pier built by the United States to deliver aid to the territory was damaged by bad weather, in a new setback for efforts to bring food to starving Palestinians. Israel now fully controls Gaza's land crossings.

The United States and other allies have warned of a full-blown offensive in Rafah. The Biden administration has said it would cross a "red line" and refused to provide offensive weapons for such an endeavor. But so far it has not tried to stop Israel's advances.

Last week, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its Rafah offensive in a suit filed by South Africa, which accuses Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, which Israel denies.

The war began when militants stormed into southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 hostages. More than a hundred of them were released during a ceasefire in November, in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The Israeli offensive in response to the attack killed at least 36,096 Palestinians, according to Gaza's health ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians. Israel claims to have killed 15,000 militants.

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