US citizens leave Gaza for first time since war began

Biden administration says it is working round the clock to help Americans out of the besieged enclave

Egypt's Rafah border crossing. About 400 US citizens and their families, numbering 1,000 in total, still remain in Gaza. Bloomberg
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A number of American citizens left the Gaza Strip through Egypt on Wednesday as part of an initial group of foreigners allowed to exit the besieged territory, the US State Department said.

It was the first time since the Israel-Gaza war broke out that foreigners had been allowed to leave.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller did not say how many US citizens had left, but noted that about 400 American citizens and their families – about 1,000 people in total – remained in Gaza.

“An initial group of foreign nationals, including US citizens, departed Gaza through Rafah today, and we expect exits of US citizens and foreign nationals to continue over the next several days,” Mr Miller told reporters.

“We want to make sure we can get US citizens and their family members out as safely as possible.”

Mr Miller said US citizens who had made contact with the State Department would be given “specific instructions” over the next 72 hours about when and how to leave the besieged enclave before heading to the American embassy in Cairo, where they would be given further assistance.

A US embassy representative in Abu Dhabi told The National that US consular personnel and chartered transport had been positioned at the Rafah crossing point.

“Consular officers from US Embassy Cairo are providing consular assistance to US citizens, LPRs [Lawful Permanent Residents], and their family members at both the Rafah crossing point and in Cairo as appropriate,” said the representative.

He said consular officers were able to issue emergency passports, as well as emergency financial assistance in the form of a loan to help citizens fly out of Egypt.

“The US Embassy co-ordinated short-term emergency lodging for US citizens who needed a place to rest while making onward travel arrangements,” said the US embassy representative.

“US citizens will need to make and pay for their own flights to depart Egypt, but the embassy can provide emergency financial assistance in the form of a loan to eligible US citizens who need it.

“There are significant security constraints in operating in the Sinai Peninsula, and we are working closely with Egyptian government counterparts to facilitate safe transportation onward.”

The development comes as the Israel-Gaza war continues well into its fourth week.

On October 7, Hamas militants launched a deadly attack on Israel, killing at least 1,400 people.

Israel responded by bombarding the Gaza Strip by air and, in recent days, launching a series of ground incursions. Palestinian officials say about 8,800 people have been killed in the enclave.

The administration of President Joe Biden has faced criticism for co-ordinating the evacuation of US citizens out of Israel in the days following the Hamas attack, without announcing plans for Americans in Gaza.

“We expect American citizens to exit today, as we expect to see more depart over the coming days,” Mr Biden said on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

“We won't let up working to get Americans out of Gaza.”

On Wednesday, 81 wounded Palestinians were evacuated to Egypt where they will receive treatment. Officials said more would be allowed to leave on Thursday.

The development also comes amid growing concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, after Israel blocked the entry of food, water, medicine and fuel.

Israel has said it wants to eradicate Hamas from Gaza.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on Friday, where he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm Washington's support for the country's right to defend itself and discuss the importance of minimising civilian casualties. Mr Blinken will also visit Jordan on Saturday.

US foreign policy adviser Derek Chollet is also travelling to Israel and other countries in the region.

Updated: November 03, 2023, 12:43 PM