Hundreds of foreign nationals and dozens of seriously injured Palestinians have been allowed to leave Gaza for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began more than three weeks ago. Their departures through the Rafah crossing into Egypt follow the release of four hostages by Hamas and the rescue of an Israeli soldier.
The opening of the border crossing came as Israeli forces advanced deeper into Gaza and airstrikes on Wednesday struck a refugee camp for a second time in as many days.
Communications and internet services were gradually being restored after the second major cut in five days, according to Paltel, the main telecommunications provider. Humanitarian aid agencies have warned that such blackouts severely disrupt their work in an already dire situation in Gaza.
The Palestinian death toll in the Israel-Hamas war has reached 8,805, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza. In the occupied West Bank, 130 Palestinians have been killed in violence and Israeli raids.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most of them civilians slain in the initial Oct. 7 Hamas rampage that started the fighting. In addition, around 240 hostages were taken from Israel into Gaza by the militant group. One of the captives, a female Israeli soldier, was rescued in a special forces operation.
Here’s what is happening in the latest Israel-Hamas war:
RETIRING SENIOR U.N. OFFICIAL CRITICIZES THE ORGANIZATION FOR FAILING TO STOP ‘GENOCIDE’ IN GAZA
UNITED NATIONS – A senior United Nations human rights agency official strongly criticized the U.N. in a retirement letter for appearing powerless and failing to stop what he called “a genocide unfolding before our eyes” in Gaza.
Craig Mokhiber, a U.S. human rights lawyer, claimed “the current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people” is rooted in decades of persecution and purging by Israel “based entirely upon their status as Arabs and coupled with explicit statements of intent by leaders in the Israeli government and military.”
Mokhiber left his job heading the New York office of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on Oct. 31. His four-page letter to U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk makes no mention of Hamas' surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Mokhiber had informed the U.N. in March of his planned retirement, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.
In the letter, Mokhiber accused the U.S., the U.K. and much of Europe of being “wholly complicit in the horrific assault” on Gaza by Israeli forces.
Mokhiber, who joined the U.N. in 1992 and said he has investigated Palestinian human rights since the 1990s and lived in Gaza, also wrote that a two-state solution for the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an impossibility. He called for the dismantling of Israel and establishment of “a single, democratic, secular state in all of historic Palestine, with equal rights for Christians, Muslims, and Jews.”
BIDEN SAYS THERE SHOULD BE A HUMANITARIAN ‘PAUSE’ IN ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR
MINNEAPOLIS — U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday he thinks there should be a humanitarian “pause” in the Israel-Hamas war in order to get “prisoners” out.
Biden was speaking at a fundraiser for his 2024 reelection campaign when a protester interrupted him, calling for a ceasefire.
“I think we need a pause,” Biden said in response. “A pause means give time to get the prisoners out.”
Israeli ground troops have advanced to Gaza City in heavy fighting with militants following Hamas' killing of roughly 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7.
MULTIPLE COUNTRIES ANNOUNCE EVACUATIONS OF THEIR CITIZENS FROM GAZA
Multiple countries have announced the evacuation of the first group of their citizens from Gaza into Egypt through the Rafah crossing.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said 20 Australians, along with three people who were either permanent residents or immediate family members of a citizen, had been evacuated Wednesday through the crossing. But Australian Assistant Foreign Minister Tim Watts said 65 citizens, residents and close relatives have yet to be evacuated.
“We are continuing to push for them to be able to make that passage across the Rafah crossing as soon as possible,” Watts said.
Bulgaria’s government also announced 36 Bulgarian citizens and their family members had successfully left Gaza.
Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mariya Gabriel said the evacuation through the Rafah crossing was implemented “in a complex and extremely dynamic situation” and all Bulgarian nationals in the first possible group allowed to leave the Gaza Strip “were in good condition.”
Earlier Wednesday, France, the U.K. and the U.S. announced the first of their citizens were able to evacuate Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
BIDEN PRAISES EFFORTS TO HELP FOREIGN NATIONALS AND INJURED PALESTINIANS LEAVE GAZA
NORTHFIELD, Minn. — President Joe Biden cheered regional partners for their help paving the way for some wounded Palestinians and foreign nationals, including some U.S. citizens, to escape Gaza.
“I personally spent a lot of time speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and President Sissi of Egypt and others, to make sure that we could open this access for people to get out,” Biden said during a visit Wednesday to Northfield, Minn. “I want to thank our partners, in particular Qatar, who worked so closely with us to support negotiations to facilitate the departure of these citizens.”
Biden said more work needs to be done to “significantly step up the flow of critical humanitarian assistance into Gaza.”
Biden reiterated that he backs Israel’s right to defend itself “in a manner that is consistent with international humanitarian law.” But he also acknowledged the suffering endured by Palestinians during the Israeli operations.
“We’ve all seen the devastating images from Gaza,” Biden noted. “Palestinian children crying out for lost parents ... writing on their hands and legs to be indemnified if the worst happens.”
DEATH TOLL AMONG UNRWA STAFF IN GAZA RISE TO 70
CAIRO — In a report issued Wednesday, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, also known as UNWRA, said the number of its workers killed in the ongoing conflict in Gaza now stands at 70. The group said that more than 690,000 displaced Palestinians were currently seeking shelter in 149 UNRWA facilities across the Gaza Strip.
UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, crossed into Gaza on Wednesday, meeting with Palestinians and also aid groups. In a statement that followed, Lazzarini reiterated UNRWA’s call for fuel to enter Gaza and for a humanitarian cease-fire.
“Without it (a cease-fire), more people will be killed, those who are alive will endure further losses, and the once vibrant society will be in grief, forever,” Lazzarini said.
2 LEBANESE SHEPHERDS INJURED AND MISSING AFTER CLASHES ON THE LEBANON-ISRAEL BORDER, UNFIL SAYS
BEIRUT — Two Lebanese shepherds were injured and are now missing amid clashes Wednesday on the Lebanon-Israel border, a spokesperson for the U.N. peacekeeping force on the border said.
UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said the Lebanese army had requested the peacekeepers’ help in evacuating two people who had been injured near the border in the Wazzani area.
The Israeli army suspended fire to allow the Lebanese army and UNIFIL to search for the shepherds, he said, but “unfortunately, they could not be found.”
“Due to the darkness and presence of land mines in the area, the search will have to resume in the morning,” he added.
The border has been the site of regular clashes between Israeli forces on one side and Hezbollah and Palestinian armed groups in Lebanon on the other.
BLINKEN TO VISIT ISRAEL AND JORDAN ON FRIDAY
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel and Jordan this week as the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and international criticism of it intensify, the State Department said Wednesday.
Blinken will depart Washington on Thursday and will be in Israel and Jordan on Friday.
Further stops in the Middle East are possible, meaning the trip may follow the frenetic pace of Blinken’s last trip to the region shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel. Blinken traveled to Israel three times and visited six Arab nations during that trip.
Blinken will be entering a diplomatic maelstrom that will likely complicate his mission. Jordan announced Wednesday that it had recalled its ambassador to Israel and would not permit Israel’s ambassador to Jordan to return to the country. It also said it would not revisit those moves until the Gaza conflict was over.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Blinken would once again underscore the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself but also stress the importance of minimizing civilian casualties and ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches innocent Palestinians in Gaza.
SEVERAL US CITIZENS AMONG FOREIGN NATIONALS THAT HAVE DEPARTED GAZA, STATE DEPARTMENT SAYS
WASHINGTON — The State Department has confirmed that a number of US citizens trapped in Gaza have crossed into Egypt after a deal was reached to allow foreigners to leave the enclave.
“An initial group of foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, departed Gaza through Rafah today, and we expect exits of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to continue over the next several days,” department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
He declined to say how many Americans had made it to Egypt on Wednesday but said there were consular officials on hand to assist them.
Roughly 400 American citizens in Gaza have told the State Department they want to leave the territory and, with family members, U.S. officials say they are looking at about 1,000 people who they are seeking to get out, Miller said.
“In the past 24 hours we have informed U.S. citizens and their family and family members with whom we are in contact that they will be assigned specific departure dates. We’ve asked them to continue to monitor their email regularly over the next 24 to 72 hours for specific instructions about how to exit,” Miller said.
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL CONDEMNS CIVILIAN KILLINGS, SAYS HE'S APPALLED BY ESCALATING VIOLENCE
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is appalled over the escalating violence in Gaza” including the killing of Palestinians by Israeli airstrikes in the Jabaliya refugee camp on Tuesday and Wednesday, his spokesman says.
“He condemns in the strongest terms, any killings of civilians,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday.
Dujarric said: “The secretary-general reiterates that all parties must abide by international law, international humanitarian law including the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.”
The U.N. chief also reiterated his call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages taken from Israel by Hamas during its surprise attacks on Oct. 7, Dujarric said. And he called again “for the entry of vital humanitarian assistance at a scale needed to meet the mounting needs of the Palestinian population.”
CYPRIOT SHIPS LOADED WITH HUMANITARIAN AID TO HEAD TO GAZA
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ government spokesman says a Cypriot initiative for the continuous flow of humanitarian assistance from Cyprus to Gaza will see ships sailing directly to the enclave where the United Nations personnel will receive it for distribution.
Spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis said Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “saw the initiative in a positive light” during a long telephone call with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides Tuesday evening.
Cyprus is working with other European Union member states and Arab countries to work out the logistics of delivering aid to Gaza as soon as conditions on the ground permit it.
Ships loaded with medical supplies, food and clothing will depart from Cyprus’ main port of Limassol after being vetted to ensure that nothing being transported can be weaponized against Israel.
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