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GAZA WAR

On the edge of Gaza, what is the Philadelphi Corridor?

The road along Gaza's border with Egypt has once again become a strategic issue for Israel in its war against the Palestinian enclave.

On the edge of Gaza, what is the Philadelphi Corridor?

Construction of a wall on the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip, February 2020. (Credit: Said Khatib/AFP)

(The Israeli army claimed on May 29, 2024 to have taken “operational control” of the Philadelphi corridor. We offer you this article for rereading, written on Jan. 9, 2024).

“The Philadelphi Corridor must be in our hands and under our control, and any arrangement other than that will not be accepted by Israel,” Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press conference on Dec. 30, 2023. Since the outbreak of the war on Gaza on Oct. 7, following the deadly Hamas attack on Israel, the question of this corridor of land has once again become a security issue for Israel. L'Orient-Le Jour takes stock.

What is the Philadelphi Corridor?

This corridor, also known as the “Saladin Corridor,” is a strip of land 14 km long and 100 m wide, running along the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on the Egyptian side. Historically, the Philadelphi Corridor was established as a buffer zone during the 1979 Camp David Accords, in which Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement ending three decades of conflict since the creation of Israel in 1948. In addition to returning Sinai to Egypt, which had been in Israel's hands since the Six-Day War in June 1967, the agreement provided for this corridor to be under Israeli control to prevent any further attacks. The main aim was to prevent the circulation of weapons and materials between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, while strictly controlling the movement of Palestinians into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing.

With its unilateral decision to disengage from Gaza in 2005, Israel transferred control of the corridor on the Egyptian side to its neighbor, which in turn withdrew from the Palestinian enclave. Cairo then undertook to combat arms trafficking on its border and terrorism in Sinai, exchanging intelligence with the Israelis on an ongoing basis. In the process, Israel demanded that the Palestinian Authority, which at the time managed the strip of land before Hamas ousted it in 2007, not destroy the steel and concrete wall built opposite the town of Rafah, which had become Gaza's only gateway to the outside world not controlled by Israel.

Why has the corridor once again become a strategic issue for Israel?

At war with the aim of “wiping out” Hamas, Israel intends not only to eliminate its leaders but also to destroy the Islamist movement's military infrastructure. These include the kilometers of tunnels that make up the “Gaza subway,” used to hide the hostages kidnapped in Israel on Oct. 7, move around, launch attacks and even train. Israel points to trafficking networks neglected by the Egyptian authorities or escaping their surveillance, which would have enabled Hamas to build its underground tunnels and arm itself over the years. However, Cairo has repeatedly destroyed tunnels dug by Hamas in recent years, flooding them with seawater, a technique considered by Israel during the war.

Israel is negotiating with Cairo to install sensors along the Philadelphi Corridor, according to Egyptian officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal, to alert Israel to any Palestinian attempt to rebuild tunnels or reactivate traffic networks with the Gaza Strip. While Egypt claims to be examining the possibility of equipping the landlocked territory, it has so far rejected Israeli requests to send notifications in the event of movement and to authorize surveillance drones to fly over the area. The talks, which began at the end of December, have stalled over these issues.

What is Egypt's position?

Since the start of the war, Cairo sensed an Israeli desire to launch operations from the corridor for its offensive against Gaza, warning Israel that it would consider this a violation of international treaties, an Egyptian source told The New Arab. Nevertheless, Israeli media revealed at the end of December that Israeli forces had carried out operations near the Karm Abu Salem crossing (Kerem Shalom on the Israeli side), using the Philadelphi Corridor. While this information was picked up by many regional media, the Palestinian authorities and Egyptian officials quickly denied it.

Faced with a resolutely pro-Palestinian population, Cairo finds itself in a delicate position: Refusing the forced displacement of the Gazan population, notably to Sinai, but unable to turn its back completely on its Israeli neighbor and its American ally, while Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's regime loathes the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas originates. Egypt did not follow up on an Israeli strike on one of its military surveillance towers near Gaza on October 22, which it described as a “mistake,” and is currently seeking a ceasefire through its plan for the day after.

This article originally appeared in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.

(The Israeli army claimed on May 29, 2024 to have taken “operational control” of the Philadelphi corridor. We offer you this article for rereading, written on Jan. 9, 2024).“The Philadelphi Corridor must be in our hands and under our control, and any arrangement other than that will not be accepted by Israel,” Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press conference on Dec. 30, 2023. Since the...