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At least 320 foreign nationals among first out of Gaza into Egypt

Gaza Strip Rafah crossing Israel Doctors Without Borders

RAFAH CROSSING, Egypt — At least 320 foreign passport holders and some injured Gazans left the Palestinian enclave through the Rafah crossing into Egypt on Wednesday, the first to benefit from a deal mediated by Qatar, three Egyptian sources and a Palestinian official said.

Under the deal brokered between Egypt, Israel and Hamas, 81 wounded people and an initial list of 500 foreign passport holders were expected to be allowed out of the Gaza Strip in the coming days, sources in several countries said.

A diplomatic source briefed on Egyptian plans said some 7,500 foreign passport holders would be evacuated from Gaza over the course of about two weeks, adding that Al Arish airport would be made available to fly people out. Diplomats said initial foreign national evacuees were expected to travel by road to Cairo and fly out from there.

The limited evacuations come more than three weeks into a total blockade of Gaza by Israel, which has been bombarding the densely populated enclave and has sent in ground troops in response to an attack by Hamas fighters on Israel on Oct. 7.

A Palestinian official on the Gaza side of the border said the foreign passport holders departed from the territory on six buses. A source on the Egyptian side said they would undergo security checks when they reached Egypt.

Earlier in the day, a small number of injured people were evacuated in ambulances and were examined by Egyptian medical teams, who directed them to different hospitals depending on the severity of their condition.

Egypt's health ministry said 16 medical evacuees had been transferred to hospitals in the northern Sinai region, 11 to Al Arish and five to Bir al-Abd. Egypt has also prepared a field hospital at Sheikh Zuweid, 15 km (9 miles) from Rafah, to treat evacuees from Gaza.

The ministry said medical examinations had been conducted at the border on 117 foreign passport holders, and 35 children had received vaccinations.

Egyptian state-linked TV station Al-Qahera broadcast images of hospital staff lifting evacuees from ambulances on stretchers and wheeling them into hospitals, where teams of doctors were awaiting them. One of the evacuees shown was a young child.

Nahed Abu Taeema, director of the Nasser Hospital in the Gaza Strip, told Reuters 19 critically injured patients from his hospital would be among the 81 being evacuated to Egypt.

"Those require advanced surgeries that can't be done here because of the lack of capabilities, especially women and children," said Abu Taeema.

Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct. 7 have killed at least 8,796 Palestinians, including 3,648 children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Israel launched the strikes after Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 300 soldiers and 1,100 civilians, and taking more than 200 hostages, according to Israeli figures.

NGO staff, mix of nationalities

There was no immediate confirmation of the identities or nationalities of the first foreign passport holders to leave Gaza.

A list appearing to show the first batch of foreign passport holders cleared for evacuation, published on the Facebook page of the Gaza border crossings authority, showed groups from Japan, Austria, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Jordan, Australia, Czech Republic and Finland.

Also on the list were staff from some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

One source with knowledge of the Qatar-brokered deal said nationals of Muslim countries were being given priority, and citizens of other countries would be ranked by alphabetical order.

Two Filipino doctors working for medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were expected to be among the first to leave Gaza, a Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs official said.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said his country was negotiating for Turkish citizens to be let out.

The Rafah crossing, controlled by Egypt, is the main entrance and exit point to Gaza from Egypt and is in a region tightly controlled by the Egyptian military, which battled an Islamist insurgency there that peaked after 2013 and has now been largely suppressed.

With Egypt wary of insecurity, only people who have obtained security clearance from Egyptian authorities are allowed close to the Rafah crossing.

The limited evacuations are not expected to lead to a longer, unlimited opening of the crossing.

Egypt, which along with Israel has upheld a blockade of Gaza since Hamas took power there in 2007, has rejected the idea of any mass displacement of Palestinians fleeing Gaza into its Sinai region. — Reuters