Ambulances with Gaza wounded enter Egypt through Rafah border crossing

Egyptian first responders transfer dozens of injured people to local ambulances as country takes in people for first time since war erupted October 7

Palestinian health ministry ambulances cross the gate to enter the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip before crossing into Egypt on November 1, 2023. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)
Palestinian health ministry ambulances cross the gate to enter the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip before crossing into Egypt on November 1, 2023. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

CAIRO, Egypt — The first ambulances carrying wounded Palestinians from war-torn Gaza entered Egypt via the Rafah crossing on Wednesday, an Egyptian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It came as Egypt and Gaza’s Hamas rulers allowed foreign passport holders out through the crossing for the first time since war erupted on October 7, when thousands of terrorists led by Hamas carried out a devastating attack on Israel, killing over 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and taking at least 245 people hostage. Since then, only humanitarian aid has been permitted to pass through the crossing.

Israel has launched an offensive it says is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties and urging the civilian population to evacuate to southern Gaza. It accuses Hamas of using Gaza’s residents as human shields.

The fighting has caused a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza where hospitals are reportedly struggling to function under the burden of wounded and amid a shortage of supplies.

Live footage shown on television stations showed Egyptian nurses and first-aid workers examining wounded Palestinians then carrying them on stretchers to Egyptian ambulances.

At least one child was visible in one of the ambulances, with officials saying around 90 of the most seriously wounded would be allowed to cross for treatment in Egyptian hospitals.

On the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, an AFP correspondent saw 40 ambulances enter the terminal, each one carrying two people.

The patients were to be taken to several locations, including a field hospital in Sheikh Zuweid, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Rafah. Media reports said others would be taken to a hospital in El Arish, 30 kilometers to the west with the most complex cases referred to Cairo.

Egypt was also allowing hundreds of foreign passport holders to cross for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Some 400-500 foreigners and dual nationals were expected to make the crossing on Wednesday.

According to a diplomatic source, the crossing was opened following an agreement between Egypt, Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers that was mediated by Qatar in coordination with the United States.

War erupted with Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as terrorists seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists. Over 240 people of all ages were abducted and taken captive in Gaza.

Foreign governments say there are passport holders from 44 countries, as well as 28 agencies, including UN bodies, living in the Gaza Strip where 2.4 million people have endured more than three weeks of unrelenting Israeli bombardment after the Hamas attacks.

The tiny coastal territory has also suffered “catastrophic” shortages of food, water and electricity as Israel has restricted imports in response to the attacks, the deadliest in Israel’s history and the worst single-day slaughter of Jewish people since the Holocaust.

Israel fears that food, water, and medicine coming into Gaza could be diverted to Hamas, or that aid shipments could conceal arms or other supplies.

As a result, Israeli security personnel carry out stringent inspections that have slowed the flow of aid to a trickle.

Trucks of Egyptian Red Crescent carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip cross the Rafah border gate, in Rafah, Egypt, October 21, 2023. (Mohammed Asad/AP)

Hamas and other Iran-backed groups around the Middle East have continued to barrage Israel, displacing over 200,000 people and periodically sending over a million scrambling for safety in bomb shelters.

The Hamas-run health ministry has claimed more than 8,500 people have been killed in the enclave, a figure that cannot be independently verified. Hamas has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll, and it also does not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives. The terror group has pushed back against such claims, releasing an unverified list of names it says represent those killed. Some of the dead are believed to be victims of Palestinian terrorists’ own misfired rockets.

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