The crossing between Gaza and Egypt, known as Rafah, has finally reopened after being closed for over three weeks due to the ongoing conflict. This will facilitate the evacuation of injured Palestinians in need of medical treatment and foreign passport holders.
People and vehicles were observed by witnesses on the Gaza side of the border frantically trying to pass through the gates into the damaged terminal area towards the Egyptian side. Some were seen carrying their possessions. Those who were injured were quickly taken to Egyptian field hospitals by ambulances, including a young boy who had bandages around his stomach.
As of Wednesday evening, a total of 335 individuals with dual citizenship and 76 severely injured or ill individuals had entered the border. It is anticipated that additional individuals will also make the crossing.
As Israeli forces intensify their attack on Hamas militants, limited evacuations are taking place as they bomb the Palestinian enclave from all directions. On Wednesday, a blast was reported in Jabalia, the largest refugee camp in Gaza, a day after an Israeli airstrike in the same area resulted in approximately 50 fatalities and 150 injuries according to Palestinian health officials. Israel claims that the attack targeted and killed a Hamas commander.
Umm Saleh Hussein, a resident of Jordan, who successfully entered Egypt, expressed that the lack of water and electricity were just a small part of the challenges faced by the people in Gaza. She mentioned that there were more pressing issues like constant attacks, causing fear and leading to the loss of many families, as she spoke to Agence France-Presse.
Saleh Hussein, a citizen of Jordan, stated that she was informed during the wee hours of the night that she was included in the evacuation list.
On Wednesday, the individuals permitted to depart included citizens and those with dual passports from Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Indonesia, Japan, and Jordan. Additionally, staff members from various aid organizations were also allowed to leave.
A small number of Americans, who were working for international organizations, crossed over. President Joe Biden, in a post on X (formerly known as Twitter), mentioned that he anticipated more departures in the upcoming days.
The UK Foreign Office announced on Wednesday evening that a initial batch of British citizens had arrived in Egypt. The foreign secretary, James Cleverly, described the crossing as “a significant and crucial initial move.”
“We are collaborating with authorities from Egypt and Israel to maintain the accessibility of the crossing, ensuring that all British citizens can reach a place of safety in the upcoming days,” he stated on the social media platform X.
Some individuals were not given permission to enter Egypt despite their desire to do so. Umm Yussef, a person with both Palestinian and Egyptian citizenship, informed AFP from the Gaza side: “We are facing an immense struggle… Please show us kindness. We are Egyptians and are unable to enter our own country. Allow us entry. We are drained and unable to rest or eat.”
The establishment of the passage was discussed and agreed upon by Egypt, Israel, and Hamas, with the involvement of the US, following mediation by Qatar.
There was no indication of the duration of the crossing’s availability, although there have been suggestions for future openings in the following days. There has been a growing global push to open Rafah for humanitarian reasons.
Prior to Wednesday, no individuals had been permitted to leave the damaged Gaza region, despite over 200 trucks delivering critical assistance from Egypt. Various foreign governments have reported citizens from 44 different countries and 28 organizations, such as UN groups, residing in the Gaza Strip. This area has been subjected to continuous Israeli attacks for over three weeks, affecting 2.4 million inhabitants.
The process of evacuations started when a high-ranking member of Hamas stated on Wednesday that the captives held by Hamas in Gaza were in danger of experiencing the same fate of death and destruction as the Palestinian people.
Earlier today, Hamas announced that seven hostages, three of whom held foreign passports, were killed in Israeli attacks on the Jabalia camp in Gaza. These strikes resulted in numerous fatalities.
The leader of Hamas’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, directly connected a ceasefire to discussions about freeing the hostages.
Israel reported that 240 individuals from Israel and other countries were held captive in Gaza following the attack by Hamas in southern Israel on October 7th. The attack resulted in the death of 1,400 people, predominantly Israeli civilians. Additionally, Israel disclosed that 15 of its soldiers had been killed in combat during the ground offensive in Gaza in recent days.
On Wednesday, there were reports from Palestinians about a large-scale disruption of internet and phone services in Gaza. This occurred after Israeli airstrikes destroyed apartment buildings near Gaza City and as ground forces engaged in combat with Hamas within the blockaded area.
Paltel, a Palestinian telecommunications company, stated that internet and mobile phone services in Gaza were completely disrupted. This is the second instance in five days where residents have been isolated from the rest of the world. Communications were also affected over the weekend as Israeli soldiers increased their presence in Gaza.
A healthcare representative in Arish, Egypt informed AFP that medical personnel will be stationed at the Rafah border to assess individuals and assign them to appropriate hospitals.
The medical representative stated that a field hospital, spanning 1,300 square meters, will be constructed to accommodate injured Palestinians in the city of Sheikh Zuweid, located in northern Sinai and approximately 10 miles (16km) away from Rafah.
Matthew Miller, the spokesperson for the US state department, stated that significant advancements have been made in recent hours during negotiations to ensure the safe exit of numerous American and foreign individuals from Gaza.
Miller stated that it would be beneficial if an agreement was made to evacuate individuals, as this could potentially allow American citizens, their families, and other foreign nationals to also leave. He mentioned that the US would advise its citizens in Gaza to go to Rafah once they have reliable information.
According to a report from the BBC on Wednesday, the UK Foreign Office has notified British citizens stranded in Gaza that there may be limited openings at the Rafah border crossing. The US is collaborating with Qatar and Egypt to facilitate the opening of the crossing for American citizens to depart.
The head of the Israeli National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, informed journalists that Israel is in communication with Egypt regarding the injured individuals. However, he emphasized that there is still a disagreement over aid shipments, as Egypt wants to allow more trucks into Gaza while Israel is only permitting a certain number of vehicles to be inspected each day.
The United States, which has shown support for Israel but also advocated for more humanitarian efforts, has expressed optimism that 100 trucks per day could pass through Rafah.
The US Department of State announced that Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, will be traveling to Israel on Friday to hold meetings with government officials. He will also be making additional stops in the region.
This report includes contributions from Agence France-Presse and Reuters.