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Foreign Nationals and Injured Palestinians Leave Gaza Amidst Israel-Hamas Conflict

Scores of foreign passport holders trapped in Gaza started leaving the war-torn Palestinian territory on November 1 when the Rafah crossing to Egypt was opened up for the first time since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, according to AFP correspondents.

Injured Palestinians and foreign nationals from Gaza have started crossing the border into Egypt, officials and Egyptian media said, in the first sanctioned exodus from the besieged enclave in weeks.

Eighty-one severely injured Palestinians were expected to arrive in Egypt on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Health told CNN, “They are arriving one by one.”

Hundreds of foreign nationals were also waiting at the Rafah border crossing in Gaza on Wednesday morning after a deal was reportedly brokered to bring them out. Jordan said the process of evacuating its citizens had begun, while Egyptian state-affiliated Al-Qahera news reported that the first group of Egyptian dual nationals had crossed the border.

Three sources close to the matter have told CNN that up to 500 foreigners are expected to cross out of Gaza at Rafah, in what would be a significant breakthrough following weeks of Israeli airstrikes across the densely populated strip that have killed thousands and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

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The injured Palestinians and dual nationals are the first non-hostages allowed out of the enclave since Israel’s latest war with Hamas began three weeks ago. In an initial update on Wednesday afternoon, officials on the Palestinian side said 110 foreign passport holders had departed Gaza.

It is not yet clear if all those foreign passport holders have crossed into Egypt. Five French citizens and four Italians were among those who crossed the border, officials in those countries said.

People enter the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip before crossing into Egypt on November 1, 2023.

Dozens of the injured Palestinians were undergoing treatment in several hospitals across Egypt after their arrival, according to a CNN journalist on the ground. Scores of foreign passport holders trapped in Gaza started leaving the war-torn Palestinian territory on November 1 when the Rafah crossing to Egypt was opened up for the first time since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, according to AFP correspondents.

Their exit follows a deal brokered by Qatar between Israel, Hamas, and Egypt, in coordination with the US, that would allow for the release of foreign nationals and critically injured civilians from Gaza, according to sources familiar with the talks.

The agreement is separate from any hostage negotiations, the source added.

A Western official confirmed that Americans were not expected to be among the first batch exiting Wednesday. It was unclear exactly what day they would be allowed to leave, according to the official.

According to internal US government correspondence obtained by CNN, US citizens are expected to begin departing Gaza as soon as Thursday.

Related: Israel Arrests 120 Militants As EU Backs Gaza Aid

Some Palestinian-Americans stuck in Gaza have received notification from the US Department of State that “departures from Gaza may begin this week,” and at least three confirmed to CNN that they had been advised to monitor their email for specific instructions before proceeding to the Rafah crossing.

US officials believe more than 5,000 foreign nationals could ultimately be allowed to leave Gaza for Egypt as part of the deal announced Wednesday, with one senior US official saying the total could be around 7,000 people. However, the official stressed that that number is far from exact, and officials have been emphasising how fluid the situation on the ground is.

Approximately 400 American citizens plus their family members—about 1,000 people total—are stuck in Gaza and are seeking to leave, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday.

Footage from the scene Wednesday showed a throng of ambulances at the Gaza side of the crossing, while images showed families waiting at the border with suitcases.

Several officials from foreign consulates were also standing by on the Egyptian side of the crossing, an Egyptian border official told CNN at the crossing.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Wednesday that “UK teams are ready to assist British nationals as soon as they can leave.”

A field hospital is being built for injured Palestinians at the closest border gate, the Sheikh Zuweid residential area in Rafah, Egypt, on October 31, 2023.A Palestinian border official, Hisham Adwan, told CNN that 500 people were waiting to cross. On Wednesday morning, some 80 Egyptian ambulances entered Gaza’s Rafah border crossing to receive the injured Palestinian patients, an Egyptian border official told CNN at the crossing.

CNN had previously reported that 81 “seriously injured” Palestinians from Gaza would be allowed to travel for treatment in Egypt.

The 81 patients were undergoing treatment in hospitals across Gaza, many of them needing surgical intervention that is not currently available there, the director of Al Shifa Hospital, Dr. Mohammed Abu Silmiyeh, told CNN. Once discharged from the hospitals in Gaza, they will complete their treatments in a field hospital in Egypt’s Sheikh Zuweid city, he added.

More than two million people, half of them children, have been stranded inside the war-torn strip since Hamas’ deadly October 7 terror attack prompted Israel to close its borders with Gaza and launch an aerial campaign targeting the militant group that controls the enclave.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) expanded its ground operations in Gaza on Friday, making the situation for Palestinian civilians and foreign nationals who remain trapped in Gaza even more dangerous amid a marked increase in bombardments and fighting.

Negotiators have been working for weeks to evacuate foreign nationals out of Gaza and allay Egypt’s concerns about refugees entering the country through the Rafah crossing in southwestern Gaza.

Located in Egypt’s north Sinai, the Rafah crossing is the sole border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. It falls along an 8-mile (12.8-kilometer) fence that separates Gaza from the Sinai desert.

Sources: Google (image), United Nations, World Health Organisation, CNN reporting
Graphic: Lou Robinson and Rachel Wilson, CNN

How the Rafah crossing works

After Israel closed its crossings with Gaza, the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza was the only viable route to get aid into the Palestinian enclave. With both border crossings between Gaza and Israel shut since Hamas’ deadly October 7 terror attacks, Rafah is the territory’s only entry point to the outside world.

But the crossing has been closed except for a few occasions when it opened to allow a limited amount of aid into Gaza.

CNN’s Alex Hardie, Ibrahim Dahman, Melissa Bell, Chris Liakos, Hamdi Alkhshali, MJ Lee, Jennifer Hansler, Hope Howard, and Yahya Abou-Ghazala contributed reporting.

Credit source: CNN

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