Israel and Egypt trade blame over Gaza aid blocked at Rafah

FILE PHOTO: A drone picture of a line of trucks waiting on an Egyptian road along the border with Israel, near the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip

By Maytaal Angel and Nayera Abdallah

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel said on Tuesday that it was up to Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing and allow humanitarian relief into the Gaza Strip, prompting Cairo to denounce what it described as "desperate attempts" to shift blame for the blockage of aid.

The Rafah crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza has been a vital route for aid to the coastal territory, where a humanitarian crisis has deepened and some people are at risk of famine.

Since Israel seized control of the crossing on May 7 as it stepped up its military campaign around Rafah, aid has accumulated on the Egyptian side of the border.

"The key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends," Israel's Foreign Affairs Minister Israel Katz said in comments released by his office.

Katz said he had spoken with his British and German counterparts about "the need to persuade Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing", adding he would also speak with Italy's foreign minister later on Tuesday.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has governed Gaza, will not "control the Rafah crossing", Katz said, citing security concerns over which Israel "will not compromise".

The comments drew a swift and angry response from Egypt's foreign ministry, which said Israel was responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and that Israel's military operations in Rafah were the main factor blocking aid.

"The foreign minister strongly denounced the desperate attempts of the Israeli side to hold Egypt responsible for the unprecedented humanitarian crisis facing the Gaza Strip," the ministry said in a statement.

"The foreign minister called on Israel to fulfil its legal responsibility as the occupying power, by allowing aid to enter through the land ports under its control."

Egypt has said that the crossing has remained open from its side throughout the conflict that began between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7.

Cairo has been one of the mediators in stalled ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas. But its relationship with Israel has come under strain during the conflict, especially since the Israeli advance in Rafah.

The United Nations and other international aid agencies said the closing of two crossings into southern Gaza - Rafah and Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom - had virtually cut the enclave off from outside aid.

The U.N. warned prior to those closings that Gaza was on the brink of famine.

Israel launched its current Gaza offensive following an attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas-led gunmen who rampaged through Israeli communities near the enclave, killing some 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The Palestinian death toll in the war has now surpassed 35,000, according to Gaza health officials.

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel in Jerusalem, Nayera Abdallah and Jana Choukeir in Dubai; Writing by Maytaal Angel and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alexandra Hudson, Gareth Jones and Cynthia Osterman)