JERUSALEM – A group of foreign passport holders and injured Palestinians left Gaza for Egypt on Wednesday in the war’s first such passage to safety even as Israel carried out another deadly strike on the Jabalya refugee camp, the third in less than 24 hours, Palestinian officials said.
The opening of the Rafah crossing for people to depart Gaza came after weeks of failed evacuation bids and public recriminations traded among Israel, Egypt, Hamas and the United States over who was to blame. A deal mediated by Qatar broke the deadlock, a person familiar with the agreement said.
Egyptian state media said 361 foreigners and 45 injured Palestinians crossed to Egypt, but it was not immediately clear whether everyone had been admitted to the country. At least three Americans who worked for international organizations were among those evacuated, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. A spokesman for the Gaza side of the border said it would be opened again on Thursday for further evacuations.
But the movement at Rafah remains woefully insufficient given a humanitarian crisis in the enclave far past the point of desperation, aid workers said. So far, a few dozen aid trucks enter Gaza at a time compared the hundreds that rolled in daily from various points before the war. The number of people injured by Israeli strikes has reached into the tens of thousands, according to health officials in Gaza.
Since a deadly attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas militants inside Israel killed at least 1,400 people, 8,796 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in Israeli attacks, including 3,648 children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
More than 22,000 Palestinians have been injured – overwhelming a collapsing health system, with medical workers overworked and critical supplies running out.
The U.S. official said the embassy expected about 400 U.S. citizens and eligible family members to begin leaving in stages Thursday from Rafah, the only official link with Gaza not controlled by Israel.
Before noon Wednesday, large crowds gathered at the Gaza border gate. Ambulances belonging to the Palestine Red Crescent Society drove through the Rafah crossing, parking across from yellow ambulances that would take the injured onward to hospitals in Egypt, according to footage shown on Arab satellite channels.
As the evacuees departed, Israel was intensifying its military operations, including in a series of strikes on the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The first of the strikes, on Tuesday, killed and injured hundreds of people while destroying about 20 buildings, according to the Health Ministry and Marwan al-Sultan, the medical director at the Indonesian Hospital.
The Israeli military acknowledged it had carried out the strikes, saying they were targeting a senior Hamas commander.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said Wednesday that the commander, Ibrahim Biari, was killed but added that he did not know how many civilians were killed in the attack. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday’s attack.
Ali Barakeh, a Hamas leader based in Beirut, said Biari was alive and “well, thank God.”
“He wasn’t in the location,” he told The Washington Post. “They’re committing massacres as a response to their failure in the land attack.”
Later Tuesday, another Israeli strike in a different area of the camp killed more than 20 people from the same family, Sultan said in an interview. The Israeli military said it hit a multistory building during battles with Hamas fighters. The IDF reported 15 soldiers died in Tuesday’s clashes. The Post could not independently verify these accounts.
The latest strike on Wednesday hit Jabalya’s Fallujah neighborhood, where “an entire densely populated square was targeted at a time when people were sitting safely at home,” Sultan said. “We are still receiving more casualties, including amputees and internal bleeding in the brain,” he said.
Tuesday’s strikes on Jabalya sparked a global wave of condemnation, including from Middle Eastern governments. On Wednesday, Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel, according to Jordan’s state news agency, which reported that reinstating the ambassador would be contingent upon Israel ending its ground incursion in Gaza and “the resulting humanitarian disaster” there.
Bolivia said it is severing diplomatic ties with Israel over its ongoing attacks on Gaza.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry said Israel’s attack was “inhumane” and violated international law. If the war continues, the fighting will “lead to a humanitarian disaster for which the Israeli occupation and the international community bear responsibility,” the statement said.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Tuesday that as of Sunday, nearly 2,000 people had been reported missing and could be trapped or dead under rubble in Gaza. More than half – 1,050 – are children, the agency said, adding that lack of fuel had hampered rescue efforts, with anecdotal evidence suggesting injured people are increasingly relying on donkey carts to evacuate.
As Palestinian rescue workers tried to locate the victims of the latest Israeli strikes Wednesday morning, Gaza experienced another major interruption of internet and communication lines, according to cybersecurity monitoring group NetBlocks.
“The incident is consistent with the loss of service on Friday and is likely to be experienced by most residents as a total or near-total loss of communications,” NetBlocks’ director of research, Isik Mater, told the Washington Post via email, referring to a previous blackout.
Paltel, the main telecom provider in Gaza, said on social media that communications and internet services have been completely cut off “due to international routes that were previously reconnected being cut off again.” Service was restored after an eight-hour break.
Over the weekend, the densely populated enclave of more than 2 million people experienced a near-total communications blackout, hindering rescue efforts and deliveries of aid.
The IDF announced Wednesday that Israeli navy missile boats had arrived in the Red Sea “as part of defensive efforts in the area.” Their deployment came as Yemen’s Iranian-allied Houthi rebels claimed they fired a “large salvo of ballistic and winged missiles and a large number of drones” against Israel, which said it had intercepted “an aerial threat” in the Red Sea area – underscoring regional worries of a widening conflict involving Iran and its affiliated militias.
Fears were growing, too, over escalating tensions in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian calls for militancy are intensifying after a surge in Israeli raids and arrests. Israeli settlers in the West Bank have also stepped up violence toward Palestinians, according to OCHA, the U.N. humanitarian agency. Since Oct. 7, the U.N. agency said, “Israeli settler violence has increased significantly,” with 828 Palestinians displaced “amid settler violence or increased movement restrictions.”
Israel on Wednesday began to bury the dead from one of the bloodiest single days for its military in Gaza. Fifteen personnel were killed on Tuesday, according to the Israeli military, nearly a quarter of the military’s toll for the entirety of a 2014 Gaza war that lasted six weeks.
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Harb reported from London, Fahim from Beirut, Mahfouz from Cairo and DeYoung from Washington. Bryan Pietsch in Washington, Hazem Balousha in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza, Loveday Morris in Modi’in, Israel, and Sarah Dadouch in Beirut contributed to this report.