Israel in effective control of entire Gaza land border after taking Philadelphi Corridor in south | Israel-Gaza war

The Israeli army said it now had effective control of Gaza’s entire land border after seizing a buffer zone along the border with Egypt, a move that risks complicating relations with Egypt.

At a televised briefing on Wednesday, Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israeli forces had gained “operational” control of the “Philadelphia Corridor,” a 14-kilometer (9-mile) corridor along the Gaza Strip’s only border with Egypt, the Israeli military codename for it.

Hagari did not elaborate on what he meant by “operational” control, but Israeli military officials have previously said Israel has “ground forces” stationed along parts of the corridor. The southern border with Egypt was Gaza’s only land border not directly controlled by Israel.

“The Philadelphia Corridor served as an oxygen conduit for Hamas, which it regularly used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip,” Haghari said, claiming that his forces “discovered around 20 tunnels” in the area.

Egypt’s state-run Al-Kahera News outlet quoted a “senior Egyptian source” as saying that Israel was using the claims of tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border as cover for the Rafah attack.

“Israeli media reports about the existence of tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border are not true,” a source with ties to the national intelligence agency told Al-Kahera. “Israel is using these claims to justify the continuation of its operations against the Palestinian city of Rafah and to prolong the war for political purposes.”

Egypt has previously said it has destroyed hundreds of tunnels across the border with Gaza since 2013.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the takeover of the Philadelphia corridor would coincide with the “limited” ground operation that Israeli officials have described to President Joe Biden’s team about the city of Rafah.

“When they explained their plans for Rafah, that included moving along that corridor and out of the city in order to put pressure on Hamas in the city,” Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

The Philadelphia Corridor is part of the demilitarized zone on both sides of the Israeli-Egyptian border. Under the peace agreement, the two countries are allowed to station only small numbers of troops or border patrols in the zone. At the time of the agreement, the Gaza Strip was controlled by Israeli forces.

Earlier this month, Israel and Egypt were embroiled in a diplomatic dispute after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) seized the Rafah crossing, marking an intensifying Israeli offensive into southern Gaza and further threatening ties with Egypt.

Meanwhile, Israel sent tanks to attack Rafah on Wednesday, following its first foray into the city centre on Tuesday despite a UN Supreme Court order to immediately halt attacks on the city.

As Israel expands its offensive in Rafah, a senior Israeli official said the war between Israel and Hamas is likely to continue until the end of the year.

National security adviser Tsahi Hanegbi told Kan public radio that “we expect seven more months of fighting” to destroy the military and governing capacity of Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group.

“The military is achieving its goals, [it] “From the first day when the government presented its plan to the cabinet, they said the war would be protracted,” he said. “They have set 2024 as the year of war.”

Reuters, Agence France-Presse and The Associated Press contributed to this report.