Over 400 evacuated to Egypt from Gaza

Over 400 evacuated to Egypt from Gaza

• As fresh blast hits Jabalia, UN says IDF strikes could be war crimes
• 400 Americans are stuck in Gaza
• 15 Israeli soldiers killed

ISMAILIA: Seventy-six wounded Palestinians and 335 foreigners entered Egypt from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in first such crossing since the Oct 7 Hamas raid that triggered an ongoing episode of hostilities by Israeli forces in the besieged enclave.

A day after an Israeli air strike killed about 50 people and wounded 150 others in Jabalia, another blast shook Gaza’s largest refugee camp on Wednesday.

Ambulances transported the 76 wounded Palestinians into Egypt and six buses took 335 foreign passport holders who were stuck in Gaza since Israel placed a “total siege” on the Palestinian territory after Hamas’s raid early last month, an Egyptian official at the Rafah crossing said.

The Egyptian authorities had said they would allow 90 wounded Palestinians and around 545 foreigners and dual nationals to cross on Wednesday.

“The Rafah terminal will open again on Thursday to allow the passage of more foreigners and dual citizens,” a security source said.

Among the foreigners were 31 Austrians, four Italians, five French nationals and an unspecified number of Germans.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress an estimated 1,000 people, including 400 Americans and their close relatives, were stuck in Gaza seeking evacuation.

The Israeli military claimed it had killed Ibrahim Biari, a Hamas commander who was “pivotal in organising the Oct 7 assault”, in Tuesday’s attack on the Jabalia refugee camp.

Footage showed smoke billowing over the camp and people sifting through piles of rubble and carrying away the injured.

“It is a massacre,” said one eyewitness at the scene.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was appalled by the high number of casualties in Jabalia. He urged all sides to respect the “laws of war and humanity”.

Israel’s military said 15 of its soldiers were killed on Tuesday night as ground forces clashed with “fighters from Hamas and other groups” in Gaza’s north, south and east. It was the biggest one-day loss for Tel Aviv since it invaded Gaza Strip last week.

“We are in a tough war,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a speech. “I promise to all citizens of Israel: we will get the job done. We will press ahead until victory.”

A Hamas spokesperson said it had fired a “large number of rockets” into Israel on Wednesday. Warning sirens sounded all day in southern Israel as well as the Mediterranean port cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

Communications and internet services were cut off in Gaza again on Wednesday, telecommunications provider Paltel said.

Palestinians said a bomb had hit an eye hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, causing a fire. There was no word on casualties.

In Geneva, the UN human Rights Office said the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) air strikes on Jabalia camp “could amount to war crimes”.

“Given the high number of civilian casualties & the scale of destruction following IDF air strikes on Jabalia refugee camp, we have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes,” the office wrote on X.

Over 7,000 to be evacuated

The people evacuated to Egypt had been trapped in Gaza since the Hamas raid in Israel more than three weeks ago. They were driven through the Rafah border crossing, and a source at the border said they were undergoing security checks on the Egyptian side.

A diplomatic source briefed on Egyptian plans said some 7,500 foreign passport holders would be evacuated from Gaza over the course of two weeks, adding that Al Arish airport would be made available to fly people out. Diplomats said initial foreign evacuees were expected to travel by road to Cairo and fly out from there.

“An important step in the right direction, which we need to build on,” Tor Wennesland, the United Nations Middle East peace envoy, said on X, hailing the opening of Rafah to the first evacuees.

Despite the breakthrough on the humanitarian front, Israeli war planes, naval boats and artillery pounded Gaza throughout the night, inflicting more casualties among the civilian population, Palest­inian residents said.

Hospitals struggled to cope amid shutdowns forced by shortages in fuel, which Israel has refused to let humanitarian convoys take into the shattered enclave, citing concern it would be diverted to Hamas.

Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas. But the civilian death toll in densely populated Gaza and desperate humanitarian conditions have caused concern across the world as food, fuel, drinking water and medicine run short.

Jordan, one of a handful of Arab states to have normalised relations with Israel, said on Wednesday it was pulling out its ambassador from Tel Aviv until Israel ended its attack on Gaza.

Waiting on the border

Nahed Abu Taeema, director of the Nasser Hospital in Gaza Strip, said 19 critically injured patients from his hospital were among the people evacuated to Egypt.

“Those require advanced surgeries that can’t be done here because of the lack of capabilities, especially women and children,” said Abu Taeema.

A Western official said a list of people with foreign passports who can leave Gaza had been agreed between Israel and Egypt. An Israeli official confirmed that Israel was coordinating the exits with Egypt.

The official said the deal was not linked to other issues, such as the release of about 240 prisoners held by Hamas since the Oct 7 raid, or a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting which many countries have called for. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the suggestion.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, 8,796 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes in the narrow coastal enclave since Oct 7. The death toll includes 3,648 children.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2023

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