Why Israel Seized the Philadelphia Corridor

Israel's announcement on Wednesday that its forces have gained control over a strip of land running along the southern border of the Gaza Strip suggests that one of the objectives of the country's war against Hamas has been achieved, but portends further isolation for Palestinians in the enclave.

Here's a look at the importance of the border strip to Israel, the Palestinians and Egypt:

It is a land about 100 meters wide that extends about eight miles from Israel's border to the Mediterranean. The new border, which divided the city of Rafah, was established under the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Gaza lies to the northeast, while Egypt lies to the southwest. Egyptian border guards guard the territory under an agreement with Israel made in 2005, when Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza. The Israelis used the code name Philadelphi for the strip, while Egyptian officials call it Salah Al Din.

Senior Israeli officials had established control of the strip, which in Israel is called the Philadelphia Corridor, as a military target. Hamas had dug tunnels under the Strip – some wide enough for trucks, according to military experts – and used them to smuggle weapons and personnel into Gaza territory.

“This is how they can get in and out without asking the Israelis,” said Ahron Bregman, a political scientist and expert on Middle East security issues at King's College London, and a former Israeli military officer. Unless the tunnels are blocked, he said in an earlier interview, Hamas could rebuild its military capacity after the war.

During other regional conflicts, Egypt has opened its borders to refugees, but President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government fears that if Palestinian civilians cross the border to escape the war they could destabilize the country and become a drag on its economy .

The government also sees Hamas as an adversary and does not want to give it a foothold in Egypt. Hamas began as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic movement closely linked to the government that El-Sisi overthrew in 2013. His government has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood since taking power.

Egypt has warned Israel to avoid doing anything that would force Gazans to cross the border or threaten a historic peace deal signed by the two countries in 1979.

For decades before the war, Egypt had stationed guards along the Gaza border. It strengthened those forces after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led assault on Israel that kicked off the current fighting in Gaza.

Egypt is the only country other than Israel that borders Gaza, so Israel's control of the corridor will likely be seen by Palestinians as a sign of growing isolation.

At the same time, the tunnels were used by Egyptian and Palestinian traders to bring food and other goods to Gaza. Israeli control of the Strip will likely stop this clandestine trade.

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