Hundreds more foreign nationals flee Gaza as bombing toll mounts

Hundreds more foreign nationals flee Gaza as bombing toll mounts

RAFAH (AFP) : Hundreds more foreigners and dual nationals fled war-torn Gaza for Egypt on Thursday as Israeli forces kept bombing the besieged Palestinian territory where thousands have died.

Wael Abu Mohsen, spokesman for the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, said about 100 foreign nationals had been able to leave.

A total of 400 foreign passport holders as well as 60 severely wounded Palestinians in ambulances were due to cross by the end of the day, he said, and Egyptian officials later reported the first arrivals.

A list of those approved to travel Thursday shows hundreds of US citizens and 50 Belgians along with smaller numbers from various European, Arab, Asian and African countries.

AFP reporters in Rafah saw cars inside the crossing point and trucks being inspected.

The evacuation marks a tiny proportion of the 2.4 million people trapped in Gaza under weeks bombardment since Hamas launched a bloody cross-border attack into Israel on October 7.

Egyptian officials have said they hope to help evacuate 7,000 foreigners from more than 60 countries from the densely crowded territory, as international calls for a cease-fire mount.

Ground battles flared again overnight in northern Gaza as Israeli troops seek to destroy Hamas.

Hamas’ assault on October 7, which Israel says claimed 1,400 lives, was the bloodiest in the country’s 75-year-history.

The Israeli army is also seeking to free around 240 hostages, both civilians and troops, captured by Hamas during the attacks.

On Thursday, the military said it had killed dozens of enemy fighters.

“IDF fighters continue to advance in the Gaza City area and conduct face-to-face battles with Hamas terrorists and deepen the fighting,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari told journalists.

“During the night the forces fought against many terrorists who tried to ambush them. At the end of a battle that lasted several hours and included ground fighting and fire support from aircraft and a missile ship, many terrorists were killed.”

Some 332 soldiers have already died in the October 7 attacks and in the Israeli offensive they triggered.

Now gruelling urban warfare lies ahead deeper inside Gaza, where Hamas is fighting from a tunnel network spanning hundreds of kilometers (miles).

Global concern has risen sharply over Israel’s response, in which the army says it has struck more than 12,000 targets so far.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 9,000 people have died, mostly women and children.

The United States and several Western countries back Israel in ruling out a cease-fire for now, arguing that it must have the right to defend itself against Hamas.

But President Joe Biden said he would support a humanitarian “pause” to help get the hostages out of Gaza.

The long-blockaded coastal strip has been under a total Israeli siege that has cut off water, food, electricity, fuel and medical supplies.

A total of 227 aid trucks have so far entered under a US-brokered deal, according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, an amount aid groups say falls far short of meeting basic needs.

Special concern has focused on repeated heavy strikes on Gaza’s largest refugee camp — densely populated Jabalia, north of Gaza City — where explosions brought down residential buildings.

Gaza’s Hamas-ruled government said 195 were killed in two days of Israeli strikes on Jabalia, a figure AFP could not independently verify.

Hamas said seven of the estimated 242 hostages it is holding, died in Tuesday’s bombings, a claim that was also impossible to verify.

Israel has sought to justify the first Jabalia attack by saying it had targeted a senior Hamas commander in a tunnel complex below the camp.

AFP has witnessed rescuers desperately clawing through the rubble and twisted metal in frantic attempts to bring out survivors and bodies.

Emergency responders say “whole families” have died.

The wounded were rushed away by cart, motorcycle and ambulance as anguished wails and blaring sirens filled the dusty air.

But Gaza’s hospitals have been overwhelmed and run short of medical supplies and even electricity.

More than 20,000 people in Gaza are wounded, according to aid group Doctors Without Borders.

Israel has argued it is trying to avoid civilian casualties and has told residents to evacuate northern Gaza. It also says Hamas has blocked many civilians from leaving.

While the United States and other Western powers have largely backed Israel, anger has flared across the Arab and Muslim world.

Jordan has recalled its ambassador to Israel “to condemn the Israeli war that is killing innocent people in Gaza.”

Israel has also drawn fire from Iran-backed enemy forces, including Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon and Houthi rebels in distant Yemen.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will embark on another Middle East tour from Friday.