First evacuees leave Gaza after another night of Israeli bombardment
- Web Desk
- Nov 01, 2023
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters): 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 anew as they pressed their offensive against Hamas militants.
Another blast shook Jabalia, Gaza’s largest refugee camp, on Wednesday, a day after Palestinian health officials said an Israeli air strike killed about 50 people and wounded 150 there, with Israel saying it killed a Hamas commander in the attack.
There was no immediate word on possible casualties but footage showed smoke billowing over the camp and people sifting through piles of rubble and carrying away the injured.
“It is a massacre,” said one eyewitness at the scene of what eyewitnesses said was an Israeli air strike in the Fallujah district of the large camp in the urban sprawl of north Gaza.
Separately, Palestinians said a bomb had hit an eye hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, causing a fire, though there were no immediate details on casualties or the extent of the damage.
The people being evacuated to Egypt had been trapped in Gaza since the start of the war more than three weeks ago. They were driven through the Rafah border crossing, and a source at the border said they were undergoing security checks on the Egyptian side.
They included at least 320 foreign passport holders and some severely injured Gazans, three Egyptian sources and a Palestinian official said, the first beneficiaries of a deal brokered between Egypt, Israel and Hamas.
A diplomatic source briefed on Egyptian plans said some 7,500 foreign passport holders would be evacuated from Gaza over the course of about two weeks, adding that Al Arish airport would be made available to fly people out. Diplomats said initial foreign national evacuees were expected to travel by road to Cairo and fly out from there.
“An important step in the right direction, which we need to build on,” Tor Wennesland, the United Nations’ Middle East peace envoy, said on X social media platform, hailing the opening of Rafah to the first evacuees.
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 amid shutdowns forced by shortages in fuel, which Israel has refused to let humanitarian convoys take into the shattered enclave citing concern it would be diverted to Hamas fighters.
Israel sent ground forces into Hamas-ruled Gaza after weeks of air and artillery strikes in retaliation for a cross-border attack by the Islamist group into southern Israel on Oct 7.
Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas. But the civilian death toll in densely populated Gaza and desperate humanitarian conditions have caused concern across the world as food, fuel, drinking water and medicine run short.
Jordan, one of a handful of Arab states to have normalised relations with Israel, said on Wednesday it was pulling out its ambassador from Tel Aviv until Israel ended its assault on Gaza.
WAITING ON THE BORDER
Nahed Abu Taeema, director of the Nasser Hospital in the Gaza Strip, told Reuters 19 critically injured patients from his hospital would be among the 81 being evacuated to Egypt.
“Those require advanced surgeries that can’t be done here because of the lack of capabilities, especially women and children,” said Abu Taeema.
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.
The first source said the deal was not linked to other issues, such as the release of about 240 hostages held by Hamas since the Oct. 7 assault, or a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting which many countries have called for but which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected.
Hamas’s shock ground attack into 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 in the narrow coastal enclave, including 3,648 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes since then.
The Israeli military said Tuesday’s attack on the Jabalia refugee camp had killed Ibrahim Biari, a Hamas commander it said was pivotal in organising the Oct. 7 assault, as well as dozens of Hamas militants.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was appalled by the high number of casualties in Jabalia and he urged all sides to respect the “laws of war and humanity…”
The Israeli military says Hamas enmeshes its fighters in crowded residential districts and uses them as cover for command posts and weapons sites.
Fifteen Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza fighting on Tuesday, the military said after next-of-kin had been notified, its biggest one-day loss since the start of the offensive.
“We are in a tough war,” Netanyahu 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 Mediterranean port cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.
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.
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.