The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt opened this Wednesday for the first time in more than three weeks of brutal conflict to allow the evacuation of dozens of injured Palestinians requiring hospital treatment and hundreds of foreign passport holders. At least 335 people with foreign nationality and 76 seriously injured and sick people have crossed the border until the end of this Wednesday. Departures are expected to continue.
Live footage from television crews at the border on the Gaza side has shown dozens of people and cars moving towards the Egyptian side through the gates of the border crossing, some carrying their belongings.
The opening of the border crossing has been negotiated between Egypt, Israel and Hamas, in coordination with the US, after the intervention of Qatar, which mediated the talks. However, it is unknown how long the Rafah crossing will remain open, after growing international pressure to open the border crossing for humanitarian reasons.
A convoy of white ambulances has taken wounded Palestinians to Egypt to be met by nurses and rescuers who examined the wounded and carried them on stretchers to Egyptian ambulances. At least one child has been seen in one of the ambulances, and authorities have estimated that about 90 of the most seriously injured will be allowed to cross for treatment in Egyptian hospitals.
Those allowed to leave Gaza on Wednesday also included citizens and dual passport holders of Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Indonesia, Japan and Jordan, as well as staff members of various aid organizations. The first Spanish citizen, an anesthetist who worked for Doctors Without Borders, has also left the besieged territory.
Only a few American citizens managed to cross, all employees of international organizations. US President Joe Biden stated in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that he “hoped to see more departures in the coming days.”
The limited evacuations came as Israeli forces continued to bombard the Palestinian enclave from land, sea and air, while continuing their offensive against Hamas militants. Another explosion rocked Jabalia, Gaza’s largest refugee camp, on Wednesday, a day after the Israeli airstrike that killed about 50 people and wounded 150, according to Palestinian authorities. Israel said it killed a Hamas commander in the attack.
A Jordanian citizen, Umm Saleh Hussein, one of those who managed to reach Egypt, said the shortage of water and electricity was “the least” of the difficulties faced by people in Gaza. “There were bigger problems, like the bombings. We were scared. “Many families were martyred,” she lamented in statements collected by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Another Jordanian citizen, Saleh Hussein, has said she received the news that she was on the evacuation list in the middle of the night.
Not all those hoping to cross have been allowed entry. “We are overwhelmed… Have mercy on us. We are Egyptians and we cannot cross into our country. Let us in. We are exhausted. We cannot sleep or eat,” Umm Yussef, of dual Palestinian and Egyptian nationality, told AFP from the Gaza side.
Over the past few weeks, hundreds of people had gathered at the crossing at different times but had not been allowed to leave due to disagreements between Egypt, Israel and Hamas. Through this same step, more than 200 trucks carrying humanitarian aid have been able to cross into Gaza from Egypt, but no person had been allowed to flee the besieged territory until this Wednesday.
Foreign governments maintain that inside Gaza there are citizens with passports from 44 different countries, as well as employees of 28 agencies, including UN bodies, living in the Gaza Strip, where 2.4 million people have endured more than three weeks of relentless Israeli bombing in response to the Hamas attacks of October 7.
This Wednesday the Palestinians warned that they are suffering another widespread interruption of telephone and Internet service in Gaza. Hours earlier, Israeli airstrikes brought down several apartment buildings near Gaza City, as ground troops continue fighting Hamas militants inside the besieged territory.
Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel has reported a “total disruption” of internet and mobile phone services in Gaza. This is the second time in five days that Gazans have been practically isolated from the world. Communications also dropped over the weekend, as increased numbers of Israeli troops entered Gaza.
The attacks on Gaza began after an attack on October 7 in which Hamas militants entered southern Israel, killing 1,400 people, most of them civilians, according to Israeli officials.
On Tuesday, a photographer from the AFP news agency warned that a large number of ambulances had gathered at the Rafah crossing. A medical official in the Egyptian city of Arish told the news agency that medical teams would be present at the crossing to examine the cases and determine which hospitals they would be sent to.
The doctor added that a field hospital with an area of 1,300 square meters would be built to receive wounded Palestinians in the northern Sinai city of Sheikh Zuweid, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Rafah.
The United States has made “real progress” in recent hours in negotiations to ensure safe passage for hundreds of Americans and other foreign nationals seeking to leave Gaza, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
“We hope that any agreement to remove any individual will also open the possibility of departure for US citizens or their families and other foreign nationals,” he said.
Miller added that the United States would inform its citizens in Gaza to head to Rafah “as soon as we have useful information.”
The UK Foreign Office had told British citizens trapped in Gaza that Rafah could be opened for limited departures, the BBC reported on Wednesday.
The United States has been working in recent weeks with Qatar and Egypt to open the crossing and allow American citizens to leave. The head of Israel’s national security council, Tzachi Hanegbi, told reporters that Israel was in contact with Egypt about the wounded, but said there was still a dispute over aid deliveries. While Egypt sought to allow more aid trucks into Gaza, Israel maintained its position of limiting it to dozens of vehicles a day, as is being done until now.
The United States, which has backed Israel but pushed for greater humanitarian guarantees, has expressed hope that 100 trucks a day could pass through Rafah.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel on Friday to meet with members of the Government. He then plans to make other stops in the region, according to his department.
The information about the opening of the crossing this Wednesday came hours after an Israeli attack on the largest refugee camp in Gaza, in which the Ministry of Health warned that at least 50 people died.
At least six airstrikes hit residential areas in the Jabalia refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City on Tuesday. The Israeli army acknowledged that it had attacked the camp. He said he did so with the aim of killing Ibrahim Biari, a key Hamas commander linked to the October 7 attack. According to Israel, Biari had settled in civilian buildings in Gaza City with his fighters.
Egypt on Tuesday condemned the attack on Jabalia camp “in the strongest terms,” warning against “the consequences of the continuation of these indiscriminate attacks against defenseless civilians” in a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This article includes information from AFP and Reuters. It has also been updated by elDiario.es.
Translation by Gabriela Sánchez.