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Gaza evacuees crossing into Egypt fear for those left behind

PEOPLE hoping to leave the Gaza Strip converged on the Rafah crossing to Egypt, with those whose names were on a list vetted by Israel gradually passing through while others held up their foreign passports in vain.

The crossing was open for limited evacuations for a second day under a Qatar-brokered deal between Israel, Egypt, Hamas and the United States, aimed at letting some foreign passport holders and their dependents, and some wounded Gazans, out of the besieged enclave.

“I’m not even excited to leave Gaza because we have so many people that we love and care about,” said Suzan Beseiso, a U.S. citizen with relatives in Gaza, where she had spent several months.

“Right now I’m between ice and fire. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to see the family I left behind or the friends I left behind. People are dying. Everybody’s dying. Nobody’s safe. We don’t have bomb shelters,” she said.

The Palestinian border authority published what appeared to be the list of those approved to leave on Thursday. It included 596 names, classified by country, all checked by Israel.

“Israel has been vetting everyone leaving Gaza through Egypt to ensure no Hamas operatives are getting out,” said Colonel Elad Goren of COGAT, an Israeli Defence Ministry agency that liaises with the Palestinians on civilian affairs.

There were 15 countries on the list. Those with the largest number of names were the United States with 400, Belgium with 50, Greece, with 24, Croatia, with 23, the Netherlands, with 20, and Sri Lanka, with 17. The United States said late on Thursday that 79 of its nationals had left.

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Those not authorised to cross to Egypt expressed their desperation to escape from densely populated Gaza, which has been under a total blockade and continuous Israeli bombardment for almost four weeks.

Ghada el-Saka, an Egyptian national who was visiting relatives in Gaza when the war started and the crossing was closed, wept and cried out in frustration as she waited in a holding area on the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing with her weeping daughter, holding up her Egyptian passport.

“Why are you leaving us in this destruction? We’ve seen death with our own eyes,” she said, her voice rising with emotion as tears streamed down her face.

Saka said she had been staying with siblings but the house had been damaged by an Israeli strike that hit a nearby house, and she and her daughter had been living on the street, while her other children were in Egypt.

“I want to pass. We are not animals. I have Egyptian rights, we are Egyptian,” she said.

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Nabih Ayad, lawyer for U.S. citizens Zakaria and Laila Alarayshi who had travelled to Gaza before the war to visit relatives, said 62-year-old Zakaria Alarayshi had multiple health problems and had been cleared to leave but would not do so without his wife, who was not included on the list.

“They’re in an absolutely horrific situation,” Ayad said. “My client is drinking salt water. They’re losing hope day by day.”

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Wounded Palestinians evacuated by ambulance were receiving care in Egyptian hospitals, including the one at Al Arish, on the coast of Sinai about 50 km (30 miles) from Rafah. Several were accompanied by relatives who waited outside the hospital.

Among them was Tamer al-Daghmeh, who said his brother had lost his right leg in an Israeli strike.

“He was in intensive care for three days. They requested urgent transfer to Egypt,” said Daghmeh.

Israel’s Goren said 51 Palestinians in need of medical care had left Gaza for Egypt on Wednesday. He did not give a figure for Thursday.

For people on the official list, the evacuation process appeared orderly, with a series of checks on both sides of the Rafah crossing. Relief was tempered by mixed emotions.

“I want to say that what is aired on TV is just 5% of what we go through in reality,” said Shams Shaath, a U.S. passport holder whose name appeared on the list.

“We’ve seen people displaced, children who lost their parents, burnt and decapitated bodies. I’m one of the people who lost their houses,” he said.

Egypt’s foreign ministry said nearly 7,000 people holding nationalities of more than 60 countries were expected to leave. Diplomatic sources said the process may take up to two weeks.

The latest war in the decades-old conflict began when Hamas fighters broke through Gaza’s border with Israel on Oct. 7. Israel says they killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 200 hostages in the deadliest day of its 75-year history.

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Israel’s ensuing bombardment of the small Palestinian enclave of 2.3 million people has killed at least 9,061 people, including 3,760 children, according to health authorities in Gaza, which is run by Hamas.

Harrowing images of bodies in the rubble and hellish conditions inside Gaza have triggered appeals for restraint and street protests around the world.

By The African Mirror

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