GAZA/JERUSALEM/PARIS: More foreigners prepared to leave the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday as its Hamas-run government said at least 195 Palestinians died in Israel’s attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp, strikes that UN human rights officials said could be war crimes.
At least 320 foreign citizens on an initial list of 500, as well as dozens of severely injured Gazans, crossed into Egypt on Wednesday under a deal among Israel, Egypt and Hamas.
Passport holders from Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, the United Kingdom and the United States were in the evacuation.
Gaza border officials said the border crossing would reopen on Thursday so more foreigners could exit. A diplomatic source said some 7,500 foreign passport holders would leave Gaza over about two weeks.
More than 20,000 wounded people are still trapped in the Gaza Strip, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), despite initial evacuations of foreign passport holders and badly injured Palestinians across the border to Egypt.
MSF noted the evacuations of “a number of severely injured” people in a statement on Wednesday, saying that its 22 international staff members in Gaza had also been among those who left the territory via the Rafah border crossing.
“However, there are still over 20,000 injured people in Gaza with limited access to health care due to the siege,” it said.
MSF’s Palestinian staff were still offering care in the territory, it added, and another international team was waiting to enter the territory to replace those who left “as soon as the situation allows.”
The organization went on to call for a greater number of people to be evacuated, as well as for a cease-fire and for more critical aid to be allowed in.
“Those who wish to leave Gaza must be allowed to do so without further delay. They must also be allowed the right to return,” the statement said.
FIRST AUSTRALIANS LEAVE GAZA FOR EGYPT
Twenty Australians were among the first group of foreign citizens to leave the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip and enter Eygpt via the Rafah border crossing, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts said on Thursday.
At least 320 foreign nationals left the Palestinian enclave to cross into Egypt on Wednesday, the first to benefit from a deal mediated by Qatar.
Watts said there were still 65 Australians trapped in Gaza and the government had urged them, using all available communication channels, to move toward the Rafah crossing as soon as possible.
“We are providing all possible support we can, communicating through all available channels,” Watts told ABC television. “It is not always perfect. This is a conflict zone.”
Watts said the government was not planning for more assisted flights at the moment as there were enough commercial options available. Since the conflict began on Oct. 7, the Australian government has conducted several repatriation flights.
Pressing an offensive against Hamas militants, Israel has bombed Gaza by land, sea and air in its campaign to wipe out Hamas after the Islamist group’s cross-border rampage into southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel said Hamas killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 200 hostages.
The Gaza health ministry says at least 8,796 Palestinians in the narrow coastal enclave, including 3,648 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes since Oct. 7.
Explosions were heard in the early hours of Thursday around the Al-Quds hospital in densely populated Gaza City, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. Israeli authorities had previously warned the hospital to evacuate immediately, which UN officials said was impossible without endangering patients.
TWO HAMAS COMMANDERS KILLED, SAYS ISRAEL
Israel said its strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday killed two Hamas military leaders in Jabalia, Gaza’s biggest refugee camp. Israel said the group had command centers and other “terror infrastructure under, around and within civilian buildings, intentionally endangering Gazan civilians.”
Gaza’s Hamas-run media office said on Thursday that at least 195 Palestinians were killed in the two Israeli attacks on Jabalia, with 120 missing under the rubble. At least 777 people were wounded, it said in a statement.
Palestinians on Wednesday sifted through rubble in a desperate hunt for trapped victims. “It is a massacre,” said one witness.
UN human rights officials said strikes on the camp could be a war crime.
“Given the high number of civilian casualties and the scale of destruction following Israeli air strikes on Jabalia refugee camp, we have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote on social media site X.
The Israeli military said one soldier was killed in Gaza on Wednesday. Fifteen were killed on Tuesday.
Amid growing international calls for a humanitarian pause in hostilities, conditions in the seaside enclave are increasingly desperate under Israel’s assault and tightened blockade. Food, fuel, drinking water and medicine have run short.
Dr. Fathi Abu Al-Hassan, a US passport holder waiting to cross into Egypt on Wednesday, described hellish conditions in Gaza without water, food or shelter.
“We open our eyes on dead people and we close our eyes on dead people,” he said.
Hospitals have struggled as shortages of fuel forced shutdowns including Gaza’s only cancer hospital. Israel has refused to let humanitarian convoys bring in fuel, citing concern that Hamas fighters would divert it for military purposes.
Ashraf Al-Qudra, a spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry, said the main power generator at the Indonesian Hospital was no longer functioning due to lack of fuel.
The hospital was switching to a back-up generator but would no longer be able to power mortuary refrigerators and oxygen generators. “If we don’t get fuel in the next few days, we will inevitably reach a disaster,” he said.
US DIPLOMAT DEPARTS FOR ISRAEL, AGAIN
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to depart on Thursday for his second visit to Israel in less than a month. He plans to meet Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to voice solidarity but also to reassert the need to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties, his spokesperson said.
Blinken will also stop in Jordan, one of a handful of Arab states to have normalized relations with Israel. On Wednesday Jordan withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv until Israel ends its assault on Gaza. Israel said it regretted Jordan’s decision.
In Jordan, Blinken will underscore the importance of protecting civilian lives and reiterate a US commitment to ensure Palestinians are not forcibly displaced from Gaza, a growing concern of the Arab world, the spokesman said.
He will pursue talks led by Egypt and Qatar on securing the release of all of the hostages held by Hamas.
Also on Thursday, the US House of Representatives could pass with Republican support a bill providing $14.3 billion in aid for Israel.
But it is unlikely to become law, as it faces stiff opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House has threatened a veto. President Joe Biden wants a $106-billion bill that would fund Ukraine, border security and humanitarian aid as well as money for Israel.