Hundreds more foreign nationals flee Gaza as bombing toll mounts

AFP , Thursday 2 Nov 2023

Hundreds more foreigners and dual nationals fled war-torn Gaza for Egypt Thursday as Israeli forces bombarded and fought ground battles in the besieged Palestinian territory, where thousands have died.

People sit in front of a bakery that was partially destroyed in an Israeli strike, in the Nuseirat r
People sit in front of a bakery that was partially destroyed in an Israeli strike, in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, on November 2, 2023, as battles continue between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. AFP


Egypt said it eventually plans to help evacuate 7,000 foreigners through the Rafah crossing and a spokesman for the Palestinian side of the border post said about 100 had been able to leave Thursday.

A total of 400 foreign passport holders as well as 60 severely wounded Palestinians in ambulances were due to cross by the end of the second day of departures, Wael Abu Mohsen said, and Egyptian officials later reported the first arrivals.

A list of those approved to travel Thursday shows hundreds of US citizens and 50 Belgians along with smaller numbers from various European, Arab, Asian, and African countries.

"There was no food, no water, no gas, nowhere to take shelter," said US passport holder Salma Shaath, 14, as she prepared to cross.

"People were going to hospitals to sleep, there were a lot of martyrs, there was no internet, no communications, and no electricity. Our house was bombed ... so we came here to Rafah."

The evacuation marks a tiny proportion of the 2.4 million people in Gaza under weeks of bombardment since Hamas launched the Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7.

Britain said it had begun sending 30 tonnes of aid to Egypt -- such as forklift trucks, belt conveyors, and lighting towers -- to help Rafah process humanitarian aid deliveries faster.

The evacuations come as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken set off for his second trip to the Middle East since the latest crisis erupted. He will spend Friday in Israel before a trip to Jordan.

US President Joe Biden says the US supports a humanitarian "pause" in the conflict to relieve pressure on civilians but opposes calls for a ceasefire, saying Hamas has no intention of holding fire and "Israel has a right to defend itself."

Ground battles flared again overnight in northern Gaza as Israeli troops continued bombing the strip.

The Israeli army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi said troops were inside Gaza, besieging Gaza City and "deepening infiltration" of Hamas-held areas.

'Whole families killed'

The Israeli army is also seeking to free around 240 captives captured by Hamas during the Al-Aqsa Flood.

Some 332 soldiers were killed in the October 7 operation and in the Israeli war on Gaza.

Now, grueling urban warfare lies ahead deeper inside Gaza, where Hamas is fighting from a tunnel network spanning hundreds of kilometres (miles).

Global concern has risen sharply over Israel's response, in which the army says it has struck more than 12,000 targets so far.

The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza says 9,061 people have been killed in Gaza, including 3,760 who are under 18.

Special concern has focused on repeated heavy strikes on Gaza's largest refugee camp -- densely populated Jabalia, north of Gaza City -- where airstrikes brought down residential buildings.

The health ministry in Gaza said 195 were killed in two days of Israeli strikes on Jabalia, with hundreds more missing and wounded.

Hamas said seven of the estimated 242 captives it is holding, died in Tuesday's bombings.

Major strikes also hit Gaza's Bureij refugee camp and an area near a UN-run school in Jabalia, where the health ministry said 27 had died.

Outside the Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City, displaced residents seeking shelter from Israeli strikes told AFP that civilians would not withstand the barrage much longer.

"This is not a life. We need a safe place for our kids," said 50-year-old Hiyam Shamlakh. "Everybody is terrified, children, women, and the elderly."

Talal Shamlakh, 65, said: "There have been missiles since 7:00 am around the hospital and we couldn't sleep while children are screaming."

Another Gazan, Mahmoud Abu Jarad, said civilians would not be able to tolerate another week of strikes. "We demand a ceasefire. This is the most important thing," the 30-year-old said.

'Death every day' 

In Jabalia, AFP has witnessed rescuers desperately clawing through the rubble and twisted metal in frantic attempts to bring out survivors and bodies.

Emergency responders say "whole families" have died.

The wounded were rushed away by cart, motorcycle, and ambulance as anguished wails and blaring sirens filled the dusty air.

But Gaza's hospitals have been overwhelmed and run short of medical supplies and even electricity.

Israeli crackdown in the occupied West Bank killed more than 130 Palestinians since October 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Three Palestinians were killed Thursday by Israeli fire in the West Bank, the ministry said, and an Israeli was killed in a Palestinian shooting attack, according to first responders.

In embattled Gaza, more than 20,000 people are wounded, according to aid group Doctors Without Borders.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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