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Guess who has the brains to build a border wall? Not us stupid.

This is going to end well!

By the way, there is no better name in journalism (for basic curb appeal) than Summer Said!

Egypt Builds Walled Enclosure on Border as Israeli Offensive Looms

Authorities are surrounding an area in the desert with concrete walls as a contingency for possible influx of Palestinian refugees

By Summer Said and Jared Malsin, WSJ

Updated Feb. 15, 2024

DUBAI—Egyptian authorities, fearful that an Israeli military push further into southern Gaza will set off a flood of refugees, are building an 8-square-mile walled enclosure in the Sinai Desert near the border, according to Egyptian officials and security analysts.

For weeks, Egypt has sought to bolster security along the frontier to keep Palestinians out, deploying soldiers and armored vehicles and reinforcing fences. The massive new compound is part of contingency plans if large numbers of Gazans do manage to get in.

More than 100,000 people could be accommodated in the camp, Egyptian officials said. It is surrounded by concrete walls and far from any Egyptian settlements. Large numbers of tents, as yet unassembled, have been delivered to the site, these people said.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying his army will need to fight Hamas in Rafah, a Palestinian city on the Egyptian border, Egyptian officials think a broad Israeli offensive could happen within weeks.

In the event of a major exodus of Palestinians from Gaza, Egypt would seek to limit the number of refugees to well below the capacity of the area—ideally to around 50,000 to 60,000—Egyptian officials said.

Egypt has long sought to avoid a flood of refugees from spilling over its borders, even threatening to abandon its decades-old peace treaty with Israel if that occurs as a result of its offensive against Hamas. The fact that Egypt is now urgently proceeding with contingency plans signals that Egyptian officials see a rising danger of such a scenario.

The governor of Egypt’s North Sinai region on Thursday denied initial reports of the construction of a potential refugee camp for Palestinians, saying the activity in the area was part of an effort to take an inventory of houses destroyed during Egypt’s past military campaign against Islamic State extremists in the area.

Israel pulled out of the negotiations over a potential cease-fire deal on Wednesday, heightening fears that the country will move forward with its Rafah offensive. On Thursday, CIA Director William Burns met with Netanyahu and Mossad Director David Barnea to continue talks, according to people familiar with the matter.

President Biden, U.N. officials and Palestinian leaders have also sought to avoid a mass displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, fearing that many wouldn’t be able to return. Israel has said those who leave their homes in Gaza will be allowed to come back. The concern over displacement is especially sensitive for Palestinians because of the exodus from their homes during the war at the creation of Israel in 1948.

“You cannot imagine the terror and fear in the hearts of civilians here in Rafah,” said Fatima Majdi Hamouda, a woman from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip who like thousands of others fled to the south in the early days of the war following an Israeli evacuation notice.

“Some people are already on the Egyptian border, and if the bombing intensifies, they will go directly to Sinai. It’s the worst of decisions,” said Hamouda, who is 32 and sheltering with her family in a tent on the edge of Rafah near the Mediterranean.

If Israel does proceed with the offensive on Rafah, the military would seek to move the civilian population northward—out of the battle zone but within the Gaza Strip—a senior Israeli military official said. Israel has also assured the U.S. that it would create a safe corridor to the north, according to a former U.S. official. Israel hasn’t publicly outlined any plan for what it would do with the civilians in the area.

Palestinians who enter the enclosed area wouldn’t be allowed to leave unless they are departing for another country, Egyptian officials said, outlining contingency plans discussed within the government.

If Egypt were to begin accepting a large number of Palestinian refugees, it would tighten entry and exit restrictions on a larger area of the northern Sinai, including the regional capital of Al-Arish, Egyptian officials said.

Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization monitoring events in the region, published a report this week documenting the construction of the concrete enclosure, including photos of what it said were concrete walls more than 7 yards high.

The report cited witnesses on the ground and included a map of the rough area of the enclosure. Egyptian officials confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that the area identified by the foundation was the general location of the planned enclosure.

Though many Palestinians living in the enclave are desperate to leave for their own safety, many also oppose any mass migration to Egypt, fearing that they wouldn’t be allowed to return home. Egyptian officials have taken a hard line against Palestinian refugees but some privately concede that an exodus on some level may now be inevitable.

The fortified camp being set up by Egypt could ultimately be used in different ways, said regional officials and analysts. In one scenario, it could serve as a safety net if Palestinians rush the border. In another, Egypt could agree to accept a limited number of Palestinian refugees in return for financial or other incentives, they said.

“It’s a multipronged effort from Egypt to counter any scenario that is not according to its accepted conditions,” said Mohannad Sabry, an Egyptian security analyst and author of a book on Sinai.

The enclosure could serve as a backstop to prevent refugees from flooding over the border unabated. “Even if the Israelis push a million and a half people to spill over the border, Egypt can throw the ball back into Israel’s lap by simply limiting the movement of Palestinians further in,” he said.

Israeli military officials say that they must expand the military operation into Rafah to pursue Hamas leaders and militants who have fled there. Palestinian officials and relief groups have warned that large-scale fighting in the area could result in a humanitarian catastrophe because of the huge civilian population, which includes many thousands of people crammed into tent cities, schools and abandoned buildings in the area.

Within Gaza, 1.7 million people have fled their homes during the war, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Israel has issued evacuation notices urging civilians to leave roughly two-thirds of the strip, according to the U.N. Israel says the evacuations are necessary to protect civilians and give the military a freer hand to fight Hamas.

Israel has been pressuring Egypt to accept a military operation in Rafah, arguing that Israeli forces have to cut off Gaza’s border with Egypt to block Hamas’s ability to smuggle weapons. Egypt has urged Israel not to carry out such an operation, saying that it has already clamped down on underground smuggling tunnels in the area.

Nancy A. Youssef and Dov Lieber contributed to this article.

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