Father reveals struggle to help his family reach Rafah crossing and escape Gaza

West London man tells The National of his attempts to arrange safe passage out of the enclave for his wife and five children

Foreigners and Palestinians with dual citizenship prepare to cross the Rafah border into Egypt from Gaza on Friday. AFP
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Foreign citizens in northern Gaza say they are trapped by the security threats involved in travelling south to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, even as a list of approved evacuees was posted on Friday.

Fares Abu Warda, a father of five from west London, spoke of the torment of seeing his family's names on a list of British citizens to be evacuated from Gaza, knowing they would be unable make the perilous journey.

His wife and children had gone to Gaza on holiday to see family but became stuck there when the war started.

Their names appeared this morning on a list of 91 British citizens given permission to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing. Mr Abu Warda has been in Cairo for days now, co-ordinating his family's escape to Egypt.

The list, published overnight by the Palestinian Border Authority, said those on it must be “present at 7am in the outdoor halls of the crossing to facilitate their travel”.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was criticised on Thursday, after the first group of about 600 foreigners evacuated from Gaza included only two of the estimated 200 British citizens believed to be trapped in Gaza.

Mr Abu Warda’s family have been unable to leave northern Gaza due to the danger of making the 30km journey.

“There’s no clear route to get from north to south Gaza. It’s not safe for them to leave. For their security, it is better to travel with UN cars, in designated ambulance cars from Doctors Without Borders or the Palestinian Red Crescent,” he told The National.

These safety concerns are shared by other British citizens in northern Gaza. Ibrahim Asaliya, who is in Jabalia, saw his family's name on the list this morning.

But he, too, was told that the only way to cross south was with an aid agency vehicle, he told The National.

Word spread on Friday that another family who attempted to flee southward were shot and killed. He believed that about 20 other British citizens could be left stranded in northern Gaza.

Mr Abu Warda has spent the past few days calling aid agencies and the relevant authorities to arrange transport for his family from northern Gaza to the southern border. But so far, his calls have gone unanswered.

They are already too late for the 7am arrival to the crossing required by the border authority.

“I don't know what happens if they don't leave today, and if they will be allowed to leave tomorrow. It may be other nationalities who are allowed to evacuate tomorrow,” he said.

His best hope is to arrange their safe passage and have them wait at the border until they are permitted to leave again.

“I'm hoping I can get them a car to travel today, they may spend the night at the border and travel tomorrow, if they're allowed to,” he said.

Mr Abu Warda tries to call his family every day but he is often unable to get through to them due to Gaza’s limited connectivity. His son has special medical needs.

“He cannot walk long distances and cannot stand the sound of explosions,” he said.

Mr Abu Warda fears the Foreign Office is not “putting enough pressure” on Israel to open the crossing and create a safe passage for civilians.

“Every day things are getting worse. Nowhere is safe in Gaza,” he said.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf’s in-laws have also been allowed to leave Gaza, according to the Palestinian Border Authority’s list.

Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla, from Dundee, travelled to Gaza to visit family before the conflict began and have been trapped there since.

Mr Yousaf’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, had reported that her parents were without clean drinking water and faced “rapidly diminishing supplies”.

On Wednesday, the First Minister welcomed the opening of the Rafah crossing, which allowed people to leave Gaza, but at the time his in-laws were not among those permitted to do so.

Updated: November 07, 2023, 1:28 PM