Hundreds of foreign citizens, including Canadians, are set to depart Gaza amidst an escalation in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The Rafah border crossing into Egypt, a primary exit point from the beleaguered region, has been opened for the first time since the onset of hostilities on Oct. 7.
A list released by Gaza’s Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry named 400 American nationals ready for departure on Thursday. Global Affairs Canada (GAC) stated it is “aware of reports” of a Canadian citizen crossing the border after the Rafah border opened. However, due to privacy considerations, further details could not be shared.
The U.S. State Department, commenting on the situation, indicated their ongoing efforts to ensure the safe exit of Americans from Gaza. “We’re working nonstop to get Americans out of Gaza as soon and as safely as possible,” said President Biden in a recent Minnesota event. The State Department’s spokesperson, Matthew Miller, confirmed that some American citizens had already made their way out but withheld specific numbers.
Given the present dynamics, the Rafah border crossing into Egypt has become an essential humanitarian corridor. Recent reports confirmed that at least 320 foreign passport holders had already crossed into Egypt from Gaza by Wednesday, with a larger number expected over the coming days. In addition to evacuees, ambulances carrying wounded Palestinians also entered Egypt via the Rafah crossing.
In a statement on Thursday, the Egyptian foreign ministry declared their readiness to evacuate “about 7,000” foreign citizens and dual nationals from Gaza. Assistant foreign minister Ismail Khairat stated that this involved “more than 60” nationalities.
Amidst the hostilities, the human toll continues to rise. Gaza officials declared that over 8,500 people, two-thirds of them women and children, have been killed since Oct. 7. Furthermore, the Gaza Health Ministry reported that Israeli retaliatory strikes wounded more than 15,000. In contrast, Israeli authorities reported that Hamas attacks resulted in 1,400 deaths, primarily civilians, and took 240 hostages.
Israel’s military strategy has come under significant scrutiny from international bodies. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed “serious concerns” over Israel’s “disproportionate attacks” potentially amounting to war crimes.
In addition to the physical damage and casualties, Gaza’s telecommunications infrastructure has been severely impacted. Major Palestinian telecommunications operator Paltel reported a blackout in the area after Israel announced an expansion of its ground operation. Services were restored briefly before another blackout ensued.
The international community has increased its calls for a ceasefire and a “humanitarian pause” in hostilities. With shortages of basic essentials like food, fuel, drinking water, and medicine, the humanitarian situation is becoming increasingly dire. The White House has shown support for a humanitarian pause, advocating for the release of hostages and the delivery of aid to Gaza.
In light of the situation, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit Israel and Jordan to emphasize the importance of protecting civilian lives and securing the release of hostages held by Hamas.