Is Egypt planning to retake control of the Gaza Strip?

Entry of construction equipment first time Egypt has deployed in the coastal enclave it used to rule until 1967.

Building equipment, sent by Egypt for Palestinians, arrive in the southern Gaza Strip June 4, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Building equipment, sent by Egypt for Palestinians, arrive in the southern Gaza Strip June 4, 2021
Scenes of dozens of Egyptian bulldozers, cranes and trucks entering the Gaza Strip last Friday have left some Palestinians wondering whether Egypt is planning to return to the coastal enclave it ruled between 1948 and 1967.
The Egyptian decision to send building equipment and engineers to the Gaza Strip came within the context of Cairo’s pledge to contribute to reconstruction efforts there after the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi has pledged $500 million to help rebuild the houses and buildings that were destroyed during the fighting.
The presence of the Egyptian construction teams in the Gaza Strip means that Hamas and other Palestinian factions will not be able to resume the rocket attacks on Israel, Palestinian sources told The Jerusalem Post.
“It will be hard for Hamas to initiate another round of fighting with Israel when there are many Egyptians inside the Gaza Strip,” one of the sources said. “If Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad start firing rockets at Israel while the Egyptian construction teams are working in the Gaza Strip, the two groups will get into trouble with Egypt.”
According to the sources, the Egyptians have warned Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar against initiating another round of fighting while Cairo pursues its efforts to help rebuild the Gaza Strip.
During the 1948 War of Independence, the Arab League established the “All-Palestine Government” to govern the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip. Palestinians living in the enclave were issued “All-Palestine” passports. Egypt did not offer them citizenship. After the dissolution of the All-Palestine Government in 1959, Egypt continued to control the Gaza Strip until 1967.
The Egyptians, however, never annexed the Gaza Strip and chose to administer it through a military governor.
“There are many rumors that the Egyptians are planning to return to the Gaza Strip,” said a veteran Palestinian journalist in the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave. “Many people here are convinced that the Egyptian-sponsored reconstruction work is part of a plan to pave the way for a permanent Egyptian security presence in the Gaza Strip.”
The Egyptians played a crucial role in reaching the Israel-Hamas ceasefire that went into effect on May 21.
The head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel, last week made a rare visit to the Gaza Strip, where he met with leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian factions and discussed with them ways of maintaining the ceasefire and the reconstruction efforts.
Kamel’s visit to the Gaza Strip is seen by some Palestinian political analysts as a sign of Egypt’s intention to play a major role in the coastal enclave in particular and the Palestinian arena in general.
“I don’t believe that Egypt wants to go back to the days when it was administering the Gaza Strip,” one analyst told the Post. “But Sisi’s decision to contribute to the reconstruction effort shows that he wants to be heavily involved with everything concerning the Gaza Strip.”
Relations between Egypt and Hamas have improved over the past few years, the analyst said.
Relations between Egypt and Hamas were strained when Sisi came to power in 2013 after deposing president Mohamed Morsi and outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2015, an Egyptian court listed Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, as a terrorist organization.
Morsi and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were later charged with spying for Hamas and Iran.
Until a few years ago, Egypt’s state-controlled media had accused Hamas of helping Muslim terrorists who attacked Egyptian security forces in the Sinai. Hamas has strongly denied the charges, saying it does not meddle in the internal affairs of any Arab country.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appreciates the efforts Egypt has been making to calm the situation and assist in the reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official in Ramallah told the Post.
He dismissed talk about a possible return of Egyptian control of the Gaza Strip.
“The Egyptians are working to achieve Palestinian national reconciliation and reunite the West Bank with the Gaza Strip,” the official said. “That’s why they have invited representatives of several Palestinian factions to Cairo. The Egyptians support the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.”