First Britons to flee Gaza enter Egypt after country opens border11/02/2023
First Britons to flee Gaza escape into Egypt after the country opens its border to hundreds of desperate families
- Two Britons thought to be among foreigners allowed through Rafah Crossing
The first British nationals to flee the Gaza strip yesterday escaped into Egypt after it opened its border to hundreds of desperate families.
The Foreign Office last night confirmed an unspecified number of Britons – thought to be two – were among more than 300 foreigners allowed through the Rafah Crossing.
It was hailed by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly as a ‘hugely important first step’ and UK teams were said to be on the ground ‘providing assistance’.
A small, desperate flow of humanity was allowed to trickle out of the besieged territory for the first time since the October 7 atrocities triggered weeks of Israeli airstrikes.
The Rafah Crossing sits on the southern border of Gaza and only around 500 foreign nationals and 88 injured Palestinians are expected to be let through in the first phase of border crossings, with Egypt fearful of a mass exodus of refugees.
People walk through a gate to enter the Rafah border crossing to Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday
People sit in the waiting area at the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip before crossing into Egypt
By yesterday evening, 335 foreigners or dual-nationals and 76 wounded Palestinians were allowed to cross, according to Egyptian officials.
Hamas officials claim more than 8,700 people have been killed, although Israel suspects the casualty figures are inflated.
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More than half of the population in the densely populated enclave are now thought to be displaced, while hospitals lack the electricity and fuel needed to ease the spiralling death toll.
The two British nationals thought to be among the first group of arrivals in Egypt were both listed as charity workers. Around 200 Britons are believed to still be trapped.
A diplomatic official briefed on Egyptian plans said roughly 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 for people to fly out.
There were nonetheless scenes of chaos at the border checkpoint where a British family were among those left in despair to find that they were not on the approved list.
Zaynab Wandawi, 29, was turned away at the crossing yesterday morning, after travelling to Gaza with her husband and eight of her in-laws two days before violence erupted. The family are all British nationals and live in Manchester.
Her sister, Esma, wrote on social media: ‘She’s ok, but she isn’t allowed out today. They have been told UK nationals are not on the list to leave.’ It was not just British families caught up in the confusion.
A lawyer for an American family trapped in Gaza told Fox News that only nationals from Japan, Austria, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Jordan, Australia, the Czech Republic and Finland were allowed to cross in the first phase.
The Foreign Office said it understood that the Rafah Crossing would ‘be open for controlled and time-limited periods to allow specific groups of foreign nationals and the seriously wounded to leave’.
Egyptian ambulance convoy which will carry critically injured people waits to go through the Rafah crossing from the Egyptian side
‘It is therefore likely that the departure of British nationals from Gaza will take place in stages over the coming days,’ a statement continued.
Mr Cleverly said that teams from the UK were ‘ready to assist British nationals as soon as they are able to leave’, but that it was vital for humanitarian aid to be allowed to enter Gaza.
As the borders opened, some 40 ambulances spirited the gravely wounded into Egypt.
A source at the border told Reuters that the arrivals would face security checks on the Egyptian side. The deal which secured the safe passage of foreign nationals and the critically wounded was reached following negotiations mediated by Qatar.
Despite the breakthrough, Israeli war planes, naval vessels and artillery pounded Gaza. Israel is also pushing troops into the enclave in large numbers in its campaign to destroy Hamas.
More than 1,400 Israeli civilians were slaughtered in acts of shocking barbarity when the extremists flooded into southern Israel earlier this month. Around 230 hostages, seized in the rampage, are still being held in Gaza.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘UK teams are ready to assist British nationals as soon as they are able to leave.’
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