Foreigners, wounded allowed to leave Gaza through Egypt's Rafah border

Palestinians with dual citizenship wait outside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the hope of getting permission to leave Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, November 1, 2023. Photo: Reuters/Arafat Barbakh

Gaza/Jerusalem: Several foreigners and critically wounded people were allowed to leave the Gaza Strip under a Qatari-mediated deal on Wednesday as Israeli forces pressed their offensive against Hamas militants in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

The deal, reached between Egypt, Israel and Hamas, followed another day of bloodshed in Gaza in which an Israeli air strike killed about 50 people in a refugee camp, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel said the attack killed a senior Hamas commander and many other combatants.

Communications and internet services were completely cut off in Gaza again on Wednesday, telecommunications provider Paltel said.

Israel sent its forces into Hamas-controlled Gaza following weeks of air and artillery bombardments in retaliation for a deadly attack by the Islamist group on southern Israel on October 7.

Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas. But the civilian death toll in Gaza and the desperate humanitarian conditions have caused great concern across the world as food, fuel, drinking water and medicine run short and hospitals struggle to treat casualties.

The Gulf state of Qatar, which maintains ties with Israel and Hamas, mediated a deal between the two sides to allow some critically wounded people and foreign passport holders out of Gaza into Egypt, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

An Egyptian security source said up to 500 foreign passport holders will pass the Rafah border crossing on Wednesday. About 200 people were waiting at the Palestinian side of the border on Wednesday morning, the source said.

A second source said not all were expected to make it out on Wednesday. There was no timeline for how long it will remain open for evacuation, they added.

Egypt has prepared a field hospital in Sheikh Zuwayed in the Sinai, according to medical sources. Ambulances could be seen waiting at the Rafah crossing.

The first source said this deal, however, was not linked to other issues, such as the release of about 240 hostages held by Hamas and a "humanitarian pause" in the fighting which many countries have called for but which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected.

The Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 killed about 300 soldiers and some 1,100 civilians, Israeli figures say. At least 8,525 Palestinians, including 3,542 children, were killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, the Gaza health ministry says.

Refugee camp hit
The Israeli military said Tuesday's strikes on Jabalia, Gaza's largest refugee camp, had killed Ibrahim Biari, a Hamas commander it said was "pivotal" in the planning and execution of the Oct. 7 assault, as well as dozens of Hamas militants.

Palestinian health officials said at least 50 Palestinians were killed and 150 wounded. In contrast, a Hamas statement said there were 400 dead and injured in Jabalia, which houses families of refugees from wars with Israel dating back to 1948.

Hamas' armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said seven civilian hostages were killed in the strikes on Jabalia, including three foreign passport holders. There was no immediate comment from Israel on the claim.

Eleven Israeli soldiers were also killed in fierce fighting on Tuesday, the Israeli military said, the biggest one-day loss for the armed forces since the initial assault.

Netanyahu mourned mounting military losses but said the war would be long but victorious.

Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, October 31, 2023. Photo: Reuters/Fadi Whadi

"We are in a tough war. It will be a long war," he said in a statement. "I promise to all citizens of Israel: We will get the job done. We will press ahead until victory."

After a lull of several hours in rocket fire, the Israeli military sounded sirens in multiple southern communities as well as the port cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

Power outage
The sounds of Israeli warplanes, tanks and naval boats pounding Gaza City and the north continued through the night. Israeli ground forces clashed with fighters from Hamas and other groups in the northern, southern and eastern areas of Gaza.

Internet connection and telecoms were down again. "They cut all telephones and internet so they can conduct massacres in Gaza City and the north. They don't want the world to see their crimes against civilians," said Gaza resident Ahmed Muhey.

Dozens of Palestinians gathered outside the morgue at Nasser Hospital waiting to get the bodies of their relatives for burials.

Inside the morgue, bodies lay on the ground being prepared to be shrouded in white after they were cleaned of dust and blood.

Armoured vehicles of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are seen during their ground operations at a location given as Gaza, as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas continues, in this handout image released on November 1, 2023. Photo: Reuters

Health officials told Reuters they had received 15 bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes overnight in Khan Younis, including four children.

"Every day there are dead and every day there are children or women among them or both," said one doctor. Two of Gaza's main hospitals - Al Shifa Medical and the Indonesian Hospital - faced a power outage as their generators rapidly ran out of fuel.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, the spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry, called on petrol station owners in the enclave to urgently provide fuel as doctors worked around the clock to treat casualties with whatever supplies they had at hand.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will visit Israel on Friday, said the United States and other countries were looking at "a variety of possible permutations" for the future of Gaza if Hamas militants are removed from control.

Iran supports Hamas, as well as several other militant groups in the region, and the conflict in Gaza has triggered fears of a wider escalation.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military said it had deployed missile boats in the Red Sea, following long-range drone and missile attacks claimed by the Houthis in Yemen.

The current violence - the worst in many years of sporadic warfare - erupted at a time when Palestinian hopes for an independent state and an end to Israel's occupation appear to be as far away as ever. Peace talks are now just a distant memory and Netanyahu's right-wing government has expanded Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

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