After a harrowing wait of just over a month, the group of Gaza Strip residents waiting to be repatriated to Brazil was included on the list of people to be allowed to leave the territory commanded by the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas towards Egypt this Friday ( 10).
It now remains to be seen when they will be able to leave, given that the queue of authorized foreigners is backlogged due to recent closures on the Cairo-controlled border between Egyptian Rafah and Gaza. The process can last until Saturday (10).
The permission began to circulate early in the morning (Thursday night, 9th, in Brazil) among Brazilians. “What a joy, let’s go home,” Hasan Rabee, who is in Khan Yunis, wrote on Instagram. The initial list did not include the grandmother of one of the Brazilians on the list, Shahed al-Banna, who is Palestinian, but this was resolved after Brazilian diplomacy efforts.
Itamaraty, which had been alerted by Israel that the authorization would come, mobilized on Thursday, sending diplomats to Egypt to receive the group, in addition to having the Presidency plane that will carry out the rescue authorized to go from Cairo to Al Arish, airport 50 km from Gaza.
The 34 people would begin to be moved at 6:30 am (1:30 am in Brasília). They must cross the Rafah post, in the south of the territory under intense attack by Israel in the war declared by Tel Aviv after Hamas carried out the largest terrorist action in the history of the Jewish State, on the 7th. As has happened before, there is a risk of border closures and other obstacles.
Of them, 24 are native Brazilians, 7 are Palestinians in the process of immigration and 3 are close relatives of the latter group. The group is made up of 18 children, 10 women and 6 men.
The group will be received by a team from Itamaraty on the other side of the border. An agreement mediated by Qatar and the USA on the fourth before last (1st) allowed the first exit of Gaza residents since the start of the war, with priority given to those seriously injured in Israeli bombings, who must later return to the territory, and foreigners.
Brazilians were not in the first six waves of people authorized to leave, despite the country having been in negotiations with Israel and Egypt since the beginning of the crisis and having announced the names of interested parties more than three weeks ago.
To make matters worse, the Egyptians suspended the issuance of permits and closed the border from Saturday (4) to Sunday (5), due to the attack on ambulances with seriously injured civilians heading to the country by Israel on Friday (3). After mediation by the UN and the Red Crescent, the border was reopened this Monday (6), but was closed again on Wednesday (8) due to Hamas’ attempt to use them.
On Thursday (9), it was reopened, but without new lists. With the new list, which includes several countries that had not previously benefited, such as Russia, China, Poland and Dinarch, in total around 4,000 people from 33 nations have already received permission.
Meanwhile, political tension between Brazil and Israel grew: politicians linked to the Lula (PT) government criticized Tel Aviv for an alleged boycott of Brazilian refugees, due to the country’s conduct of the work of the UN Security Council in October.
If the PT is historically linked to the Palestinian cause, the facts discredit conspiracy theories. Americans, with the largest contingent announced in Gaza (1,200 out of 7,500 eligible), were only favored in the second wave, while Israel’s enemy Indonesia already had citizens in the first.
There were other sources of tension: the Israeli ambassador met with former president Jair Bolsonaro (PL) and the Ministry of Justice complained about Israeli interference in the action that arrested those accused of preparing an attack by the Lebanese Hezbollah in Brazil.
In the intricate permission arrangement, everyone had to be approved by Egypt, Israel, the US and the emirate of Qatar, mediating with Hamas. Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira spoke with his Egyptian counterpart last week. With the Israeli, Eli Cohen, there were four phone calls.
In the most recent, on Thursday afternoon, Cohen promised to leave this Friday. He said that the forecast he had previously given, for release on Wednesday, was hampered by Rafah’s ups and downs.
The group will now receive attention from the medical team sent by the Brazilian government to Egypt and will then be repatriated. The VC-2, the version in use by the Presidency of the Embraer-190, will leave Al Arish towards Brasília, with at least three stops (Rome, Las Palmas and Recife). To this group are added the 1,410 Brazilians repatriated from Israel by the Brazilian Air Force, which also gave lifts to 3 Bolivians, and 32 Brazilians removed from the West Bank through Jordan.
Group had been waiting for a month
The departure of Brazilians from Gaza will end a dramatic epic. The entire group has fluctuated around 30 people since the beginning of the war, with some dropping out and returning. It was formed shortly after the start of the conflict by the Brazilian ambassador to the West Bank, Alessandro Candeas, in coordination with his colleague in Tel Aviv, Frederico Meyer, and with a network of contacts in the Palestinian territory.
In principle, Itamaraty arranged for part of the group to be concentrated in a Catholic school in the south of the strip’s namesake capital. The location, which had already been bombed in 2021 by Israel, had its coordinates reported to the government in Tel Aviv in order to avoid a new attack.
But the situation became tense, with increasingly frequent bombings in the region. When Israel ordered the exit of civilians from almost half of the territory of Gaza, the password was given: it would be necessary to remove Brazilians from there.
At that moment, videos of characters who marked the journey began to emerge, such as 18-year-old student Shahed. She alternated pleas for help with accounts of the refugees’ daily lives, giving a recognizable face to the ongoing drama.
Candeas mounted a risky operation, renting a bus to take the group to the south of the Gaza Strip, theoretically safer from attacks. After a tense back and forth, with the right to board and disembark the vehicle, Itamaraty managed to distribute the people.
In the end, 16 people were in Khan Yunis, a city 10 km from Rafah, in four apartments owned by Brazilian families. Another 18 went to two houses rented by diplomats in the city that borders Egypt.
The tension, however, did not cease. Israel continued with bombings as it prepared its ground action against Gaza, and did not spare the areas outside the exclusion zone. Again, Itamaraty provided addresses, but security was hypothetical. Another refugee who made videos that went viral, trader Rabee, 30, even filmed one of them shortly after the missile fell near his home in Khan Yunis.
He would talk to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), via video, days later. In subsequent posts, the last on Thursday, he described the difficulties and complained, sometimes about the government, sometimes about Israel, to whom he attributed the delay in leaving.
Conditions deteriorated in Gaza
Conditions in Gaza were deteriorating, with little access to water, food and gas. As Shahed’s videos showed, the use of firewood was essential for cooking, and donkey carts were used to travel through the region’s markets.
In them, prices had even tripled. “Everything became very expensive,” said Candeas, who maintained a flow of money into the accounts of families, who had no difficulty finding supplies, but no lack of resources. The cost of the operation has not yet been calculated.
With the imbroglio involving Egypt and the back and forth opening of the border, despair grew. Candeas told Piauí magazine that he prayed every day at the Holy Sepulcher, in Jerusalem, for the solution of the case. In the end, the good news came this Thursday. Chancellor Cohen’s appointment was announced by CNN Brasil, and later confirmed by Itamaraty.
It was a diplomatic ordeal for Brazil. In addition to Vieira’s management and the work of his ambassadors in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Cairo, Lula even spoke to regional leaders, without immediate success.
Egypt does not want a new exodus
A central problem in the matter is Egypt’s delicate position. The dictatorship of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has already said it does not want a mass influx of refugees from Gaza, which has 2.3 million inhabitants. The reason is twofold.
First, the reality that an exodus would hardly have a path back open, generating yet another population displacement in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which would weaken Sisi politically.
Second, just as important, is the fact that Egypt already has difficulties supporting the 290,000 refugees from other wars there, let alone taking on such a large contingent in an inhospitable area like the Sinai peninsula. Underlying these two factors is the fear of terrorist infiltration in a region where attacks are endemic.