Wednesday, 28 February 2024 12:51

Walled site grows at Egypt border near Gaza Featured

Egypt has built more than 3km of wall in the past week in addition to further clearance of a large area next to its border with Gaza, BBC Verify has found.

It comes after Israel warned it is preparing for a ground offensive in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah.

The city has seen a huge increase in its population in recent months.

Egyptian authorities say "no provisions" are being made for displaced Palestinians and the area is meant for a "logistical hub" for aid.

But an aid worker for a UK charity, who is part of the humanitarian efforts in Gaza, told the BBC she had "never seen large scale clearing of land" for such a logistical hub and they were unaware of any such plan.

What do the latest images show?

More than 16 sq km (6 sq miles) have been cleared just over the border from Gaza, visible in the recent satellite images.

Cleared area in northern Egypt near border

The clearing of this area began at the start of February, but has expanded dramatically over the past week.

Sections of wall around this area now appear to be under construction.

On 14 February, about 0.8km (0.5 miles) of wall were visible in satellite imagery, but the most recent pictures indicate more that than 4km (2.5 miles) has now been erected.

The wall appears to be being built simultaneously in three places - in this image you can see construction in the south-west corner of the cleared area.

Construction ongoing in northern Egypt

What appears to be a crane and other vehicles can be seen near construction materials.

In the south-east corner, you can see a build up of trucks along the main road which leads from north Egypt into Gaza.

Some of these trucks are parked off the main road and within the newly-cleared area.

The build up of trucks in Egypt

What is the area for?

Following reports the area was being made to house Palestinian refugees, Egypt publicly denied it was making any such preparations.

Since the start of the Gaza war following Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October, Egypt has consistently said it would not open its border to refugees.

It has taken that stance partly because it does not want to appear complicit in the large-scale displacement of Palestinians, but also out of economic and security concerns.

And Israel has previously said that it has "no intention of evacuating Palestinian civilians to Egypt".

The authorities in Egypt’s North Sinai province released a statement saying "the armed forces are setting up a logistical area to receive aid for Gaza" to ease the congestion on the roads near the border.

Pictures show the erection of a wall around the cleared site IMAGE SOURCE,NORTH SINAI GOVERNORATE
Image caption,
The authorities in Egypt’s North Sinai province have published pictures of the construction efforts

The local governor said the area was being prepared for "truck waiting areas, secure warehouses, administrative offices, and driver accommodations".

However, the BBC has spoken to a humanitarian expert, who is part of a group which coordinates aid efforts into Gaza, and she says they haven’t heard of any such plan.

"If there was a plan to suddenly increase the capacity by constructing a hub of sorts, I would suggest that this would have been shared [with aid agencies] by the Egyptian authorities," she said.

The aid worker didn’t want to be named, as it could complicate the relationship between the aid organisation she works for and the Egyptian authorities.

"The capacity for warehousing in Egypt is something that is discussed at almost every meeting. Given that this hasn’t been shared, my assumption is that this is not what the plan is," she added.

We showed the latest satellite images to several security experts to see what they thought its purpose could be.

Andreas Krieg, a senior lecturer in security studies at Kings College, London, said: "You do not need to clear that much ground to stage waiting trucks. To me, it very much looks like Egypt making preparations for the worst-case scenario."

"If you put this in perspective of how big this area this is, 16 km sq of trucks, that is thousands and thousands of trucks. There’s never been a situation where you’ve had thousands of trucks waiting at the border."