A first group of civilian evacuees from Gaza crossed into Egypt under a Qatari-mediated deal on Wednesday while Israeli forces bombed the Palestinian enclave from land, sea and air as they pressed their offensive against Hamas fighters.
The evacuees, who had been trapped in Gaza since the start of the war more than three weeks ago, were driven in ambulances through the Rafah border crossing. A source at the border said they were undergoing security checks on the Egyptian side.
Under the deal reached between Egypt, Israel and Hamas, a number of foreign nationals and critically wounded people will be allowed to leave the besieged territory.
Despite the breakthrough on the humanitarian front, Israeli war planes, naval boats and artillery pounded Gaza throughout the night, inflicting scores more casualties among the civilian population, Palestinian residents said.
Hospitals struggled to cope as fuel shortages forced shutdowns.
Israel sent its forces into Hamas-controlled Gaza following weeks of air and artillery strikes in retaliation for a deadly attack by the Islamist group on southern Israel on Oct 7.
Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas. But the civilian death toll in Gaza and desperate humanitarian conditions have caused concern across the world as food, fuel, drinking water and medicine run short.
Waiting on the border
Palestinians with dual citizenship at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, November 1, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
An Egyptian security source had said earlier that up to 500 foreign passport holders would pass though the Rafah crossing on Wednesday. About 200 people were waiting at the Palestinian side of the border, the source said.
A second source said not all were expected to make it out on Wednesday and there was no timeline for how long the crossing would remain open.
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.
Egypt has prepared a field hospital in Sheikh Zuwayed, medical sources said. Ambulances were waiting at Rafah.
Read also: Foreigners, wounded set to leave Gaza as Israeli offensive intensifies
The first source said the deal was not linked to other issues, such as the release of about 240 hostages held by Hamas or a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting which many countries have called for but which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected.
Indonesia said it was trying to get out 10 nationals but three of them, volunteers at an Indonesia-run hospital, have decided to stay. The Philippines, Jordan and Italy also said they said they hoped to bring citizens out on Wednesday.
The Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 that triggered the hostilities killed about 300 soldiers and 1,100 civilians, Israel says.
The Gaza health ministry says at least 8,796 Palestinians, including 3,648 children, have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since then.
Refugee camp hit
Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, October 31, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
On Tuesday, an Israeli air strike killed about 50 people and wounded 150 in Jabalia, Gaza’s largest refugee camp, Palestinian health officials said.
The Israeli military said the attack had killed Ibrahim Biari, a Hamas commander it said was pivotal in organising the Oct. 7 assault, as well as dozens of Hamas fighterst.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief said he was appalled by the high number of casualties in Jabalia and he urged all sides to respect the rules of war.
Josep Borrell said Israel had a right to defend itself but “laws of war and humanity must always apply”.
The EU last week called for pauses in Israeli bombing and Hamas rocket attacks to get humanitarian aid into Gaza through safe corridors.
“With each passing day, as the situation becomes more and more dire, this is more urgent than ever,” Borrell said.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that Israeli hostages held in Gaza were subject to the same “death and destruction” that Palestinians have faced.
Eleven Israeli soldiers were also killed in fighting on Tuesday, the Israeli military said, its biggest one-day loss since the initial assault.
Netanyahu mourned mounting military losses and cautioned that the war would be long.
“We are in a tough war,” he said. “I promise to all citizens of Israel: We will get the job done. We will press ahead until victory.”
Cross-border Hamas rocket fire continued, with warning sirens sounding in southern Israel communities as well as the port cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.
This image grab from an AFP TV footage shows fire and smoke rising above Gaza City during relentless Israeli strikes. PHOTO: AFP
Overnight Israeli ground forces clashed with fighters from Hamas and other groups in the north, southern and eastern areas of Gaza – part of a series of incursions apparently aimed at incremental gains rather than a full-scale invasion.
Communications and internet services were cut off in Gaza again on Wednesday, telecommunications provider Paltel said.
“They don’t want the world to see their crimes against civilians,” said Gaza resident Ahmed Muhey.
Dozens of Palestinians gathered outside the Nasser Hospital morgue waiting to get the bodies of their relatives for burial.
Inside, bodies lay on the ground being prepared to be shrouded in white after they were cleaned of dust and blood.
Health officials said they had received 15 bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes overnight in Khan Younis, including four children.
“Everyday there are dead and every day there are children or women among them or both,” said one doctor.
Two hospitals – Al Shifa Medical and the Indonesian Hospital – faced power outages as their generators were running out of fuel.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship hospital, Gaza’s only cancer treatment facility, was now out of service due to the lack of fuel.
The violence – the worst in many years of sporadic warfare – erupted at a time when Palestinian aspirations for an independent state and an end to Israel’s occupation have little prospect of being fulfilled.
Peace talks are now a distant memory and Netanyahu’s right-wing government has expanded Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel sees Hamas, which has vowed to destroy the Jewish state, as an existential threat.