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The painful war in Gaza must end

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Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Soukry met with his counterpart Giorgos Gerapetritis in Athens

By Eleni Vasiliki Bampaliouta

The war in Gaza was the main topic of discussion in the meeting between Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Soukry. The need for the war in Gaza to end was underlined in their joint statements by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Giorgos Gerapetritis, and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Soukry. The situation in the Middle East, the spread of the war, and the humanitarian crisis that has been created were the first topics on the agenda of the Gerapetritis – Soukry meeting in Athens, with the Greek side seeking to consolidate a role as a bridge between Arab countries and the EU. On the table were the economic consequences of the war in Egypt, the explosion of immigration, and the bilateral relations between Athens and Cairo, whose strategic nature has been confirmed.

Gerapetritis underlined the close relations between Greece and Egypt and the role of Cairo “as a cornerstone of security in the Eastern Mediterranean and a leading force in the Arab world.” He spoke of an “unspeakable tragedy unfolding in Gaza” which “must come to an end,” noting that “Greece will continue to do everything possible and provide its good services to achieve an immediate and sustainable ceasefire. In this direction, our collective efforts should be intensified so that the hostilities stop, the hostages are released, and humanitarian aid is channeled unhindered to all those in need.” Gerapetritis warned of the dramatic consequences that the extension of the hostilities in Rafah would have, noting that it must be “avoided at all costs.” The two Foreign Ministers agreed that sustainable peace can only exist with a two-state solution within the framework of the decisions of the United Nations Security Council, with the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and the borders of 1967, which will also ensure the security of Israel. Referring to the spread of the crisis in the Red Sea and the wider Middle East, Gerapetritis pointed out that it directly threatens the economy and world trade by creating new foci of humanitarian crises.

The relations between Greece and Egypt

“Any direct or indirect coercion of mass movements of populations constitutes collective punishment that cannot be tolerated under international law. In addition, the rest of the conditions surrounding Egypt, especially the worsening of the situation in Sudan, create even greater regional instability and uncertainty,” said the Foreign Minister characteristically, assuring that Greece will continue to support Egypt both bilaterally and within the EU. He recalled the role of Athens in the Egypt-EU strategic partnership agreement, the delimitation of Greece-Egypt maritime zones in 2020, and the tripartite Greece-Cyprus-Egypt, and also the agreement on the Greece-Egypt electrical interconnection cable. Also on the agenda is the Greece-Egypt Supreme Cooperation Council which, as agreed, will take place in Athens. Referring to the issue of immigration, Gerapetritis pointed out that ways of limiting irregular immigration were discussed as well as an evaluation of legal immigration routes, recalling the relevant Athens-Cairo agreements.

Answering a question about immigration, Soukry noted that Egypt is making efforts so that the people of the country do not have to emigrate, but also to reduce smuggling. He accused the international community of not providing the necessary aid to Egypt. He reminded that about nine million immigrants live in his country and enjoy all social services including free health and education. He noted that the two wars in Ukraine and Gaza had an impact on the Egyptian economy, resulting in a wave of migration. However, he said irregular migrants are not leaving Egypt but Libya. Gerapetritis referred to the excellent cooperation between Greece and Egypt in the immigration field, stressing that “the European Union must stand by its side and the Greek government will ensure that the aid is substantial and lasting. It is important that Egypt remains a pillar of stability in a wider region, which is under a regime of great pressure.” As he said in relation to immigration, “our thinking is that legal immigration channels should be established so that Egypt’s skilled human resources can be utilized in the Greek economy. And we work very systematically in this direction. The relevant procedures will be completed in the near future.” Soukry spoke about Egypt’s desire to further strengthen relations with Greece, emphasizing Gerapetritis’s statements on issues of bilateral cooperation, stressing that the two sides have a common vision in relation to the promotion of relations between them, which is also linked to security in the area.

The war and the problems in Gaza

Soukry underlined that the situation in Gaza is a humanitarian tragedy which is getting worse every day. He stressed that it threatens regional security and has already expanded to Lebanon, Yemen, and the Red Sea. He noted the need for all humanitarian aid corridors to exist and be open and safe, stressing that Rafah, due to the conflicts, is no longer safe for the people working to transport humanitarian aid. As he said, “the conscience of the international community cannot wait. The war in Rafah should not be extended,” and he emphasized that the crossings should be facilitated and the procedures should remain open. Answering a related question, Gerapetritis repeated that “Greece has a historical friendship with the Arab countries, as well as a strategic relationship with Israel. In this context, we have the possibility to talk with both sides, as well as to talk with the international actors more broadly in the region.”

As he said, Greece will continue to provide its services to all sides, noting that “every day that passes creates, on the one hand, a greater worsening of the existing humanitarian crisis in the region and, on the other hand, much greater risks for the expansion of hostilities that will create new foci of crisis not only for the people themselves in the region but also for the economy and for immigration.” Regarding Egypt-Turkey relations and whether they can affect Greece-Egypt relations, Gerapetritis responded with Athens’ firm position that “there should be relations of friendship and good neighborliness with all the countries of the wider region.” As he said, the relationship between Egypt and Greece “is at the peak of the real bilateral diplomatic relationship. It is a strategic relationship, which is not going to be redefined. With the Minister, we will work even more, preparing the first Supreme Council, so that we can maintain this good course, strengthen our bilateral relations, and always be in a cordial relationship of cooperation at the strategic level.”

Sameh Soukry characterized the Athens-Cairo relationship as a relationship of strategic importance, which contributes to security, stressing that when there is an initiative for a relationship based on mutual respect and non-intervention, Egypt welcomes it, but this does not mean that it is at the expense of strategies of allies. It is worth noting that Gerapetritis and Soukry both expressed their condolences in Tehran for the loss of the President and Foreign Minister of Iran.

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