The US Embassy has told foreign nationals to make their way to the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border to evacuate as Israeli tanks prepare to plough into the besieged Palestinian enclave.
The Israeli military on Friday punished Gaza with more airstrikes in retaliation to the despicable terror attacks launched by Hamas on October 7. Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers are readying themselves for battle as an invasion appears imminent.
In an urgent security alert this morning, the US Embassy said it had received information that the critical Rafah border crossing would open at 10am local time (8am BST).
The crossing opened this morning to let desperately needed aid flow to Palestinians running short of food, medicine and water in the territory under an Israeli siege. Today’s convoy of 20 trucks will be the first to enter Gaza since the war erupted.
Authorities have told trapped US nationals to expect a ‘potentially chaotic and disorderly environment on both sides of the crossing’.
Urging foreign nationals to escape Gaza if they can, the embassy warned: ‘If the border is opened, we do not know how long it will remain open for foreign citizens to depart Gaza.’
They added: ‘The situation remains dynamic and fluid and the security environment is unpredictable. You should assess your personal safety and security before choosing to move toward the border or trying to cross.’
The opening of the Rafah crossing comes after more than a week of high-level diplomacy by various mediators, including visits to the region by US President Joe Biden and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Palestinians inspect the destruction following an Israeli strike on Dhaheer family home in Rafah southern Gaza Strip
Egyptian soldiers are in place to oversee preparations for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the war-torn Palestinian enclave
The US Embassy has told foreign nationals to make their way to the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border
Israeli soldiers and armoured vehicles are gathered at an undisclosed location near the border with Gaza
The crossing opened this morning to let desperately needed aid flow to Palestinians running short of food, medicine and water. Pictured: First trucks cross into Gaza
Egyptian army special forces soldiers deploy before the concrete barrier marking the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip in Rafah
Aid workers on the Egyptian side of the crossing could be seen chanting and clapping as trucks passed through the main gate to Gaza.
It comes as Hamas released hostages Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie, after they spent almost two weeks in captivity following their abduction from a kibbutz by the terror group.
The two had been on a trip from their home in suburban Chicago to Israel to celebrate Jewish holidays, the family said. They were in the kibbutz of Nahal Oz, near Gaza, on Oct. 7 when Hamas and other terrorists stormed into southern Israeli towns, killing hundreds and abducting 203 others.
The family had heard nothing from them since the attack and were later told by US and Israeli officials that they were being held in Gaza, Natalie’s brother Ben said.
Her brother joked that he was ‘annoyed’ because she still looked ‘like a supermodel’, despite her ordeal. Natalie’s father after said she is ‘doing very well’ despite spending 13 days in captivity.
‘She’s doing good. She’s doing very good,’ said Uri Raanan, 71, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, adding that they did not discuss where she was held or her conditions in captivity.
‘She did not tell me anything. But she told me they treat her nice, and she was doing very good. I’m going to hug her and kiss her, and it’s going to be the best day of my life.’
President Joe Biden spoke with the two freed hostages and their relatives. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which transported the freed Americans from Gaza to Israel, said their release was ‘a sliver of hope.’
Aid convoy trucks make their way to cross the Rafah border from the Egyptian side on October 21
Israeli armoured vehicles gathered at an undisclosed location near the border with Gaza, in Israel, on Friday
A formation of Israeli tanks is positioned near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on October 21
An Israeli Merkava tank drives past a fence near Kibbutz Beeri, close to the border with Gaza on October 20, 2023
Relatives of other captives welcomed the release and appealed for more people to be freed. They were released for humanitarian reasons in an agreement with Qatar, a Persian Gulf nation that has often served as a Mideast mediator.
Hamas said in a statement that it was working with mediators ‘to close the case’ of hostages if security circumstances permit. The group added that it is committed to mediation efforts by Egypt, Qatar and other countries.
Qatar said it would continue its dialogue with Israel and Hamas in hopes of winning the release of all hostages ‘with the ultimate aim of de-escalating the current crisis and restoring peace.’
Elsewhere, Israel’s government sent out a threatening message about the future, warning that it will cut ‘the umbilical cord’ with Gaza to create ‘a new security reality’ and block all crossings after annihilating Hamas in a ground invasion.
Israel will enforce a buffer zone within the Gaza Strip once the war is over, Israel’s agriculture minister Avi Dichter said on Thursday.
In comments that seemed to refer to setting up a buffer zone in the coastal strip, Israel’s foreign minister Eli Cohen said on Wednesday that ‘at the end of this war, not only will Hamas no longer be in Gaza, but the territory of Gaza will also decrease’.
Freed hostages Natalie Raanan and her mother Judith are seen speaking to Joe Biden, in a photo released on Friday night by the US embassy in Israel
Judith Raanan is seen being escorted out of Gaza on Friday, with her daughter Natalie to her right
Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan arrived back in Israel late on Friday, the Israeli government confirmed
Israel has urged its own citizens to immediately leave Egypt and Jordan as regional tensions continue to flare over the war in Gaza.
‘Israel’s National Security Council raises its travel warnings for Egypt (including Sinai) and Jordan to level 4 (high threat): recommendation not to travel to these countries and for those staying there to leave… as soon as possible,’ the national security council said in a statement.
The notice comes just days after Israel recalled its diplomats from Turkey as a security precaution following an earlier request for its citizens to leave as well.
The evacuation calls came after days of protests across the Middle East over Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
The war ignited after Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip, taking more than 200 hostages and killing at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians who were shot, mutilated or burnt to death, according to Israeli officials.
Israel has since vowed to destroy Hamas, and a bombing campaign launched in response has levelled entire city blocks in Gaza, so far killing 4,137 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers and scores of tanks and armoured vehicles are now positioned on the border – ready for a ground assault on the Gaza Strip.
With innocent civilians being caught up in the crossfire, there is relief that the Rafah crossing has opened today to allow in humanitarian aid.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the aid flowing through the Rafah crossing into Gaza was a ‘lifeline’. But he said that access had to be maintained to provide humanitarian relief.
He said: ‘Trucks carrying lifesaving aid are beginning to cross at Rafah into Gaza. This aid is a lifeline for those suffering. But it cannot be a one-off. The UK continues to push for humanitarian access to Gaza.’
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffithsaid: ‘I am confident that this delivery will be the start of a sustainable effort to provide essential supplies… to the people of Gaza.’ But he added: ‘This first convoy must not be the last.’
The Hamas media officer reportedly said the 20 trucks ‘will not change the catastrophic medical conditions in Gaza’.
Israel has sealed off the territory for two weeks, forcing Palestinians 2.3million people, half of whom have fled, to ration food and to drink filthy water from wells. Hospitals say they are running low on medicine and fuel for emergency generators amid a territory-wide blackout.
This handout satellite picture taken on October 20, 2023, shows a view of humanitarian aid trucks moving in a convoy near Sheikh Zuwayed in Egypt’s North Sinai province and bound for the Rafah border crossing between northeastern Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip. Cargo planes and trucks have been bringing humanitarian aid to Rafah for days, but so far none has been delivered to Gaza
Egyptian army special forces soldiers deploy near the gate of the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing
Satellite images show the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing which is in urgent need of aid
People protesting the Israeli attacks on Gaza during the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ visit at the Rafah border crossing on October 20
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (C) speaks outside the gate of the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on October 20
Many in Gaza, reduced to eating one meal a day and without enough water to drink, are waiting desperately for the aid which was seen entering Gaza this morning.
Twenty trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent, which is responsible for delivering aid from various UN agencies, entered the Egyptian terminal.
The US Embassy’s release came amid growing expectations of a ground offensive that Israel says is aimed at rooting out the militant group, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years. Israel said Friday it does not plan to take long-term control over the tiny territory.
Two large explosions were reported in northern Gaza early Saturday, and rockets set off air raid sirens in a nearby Israeli town.
A potential Israeli ground assault is likely to lead to a dramatic escalation in casualties on both sides in urban fighting.
Hamas have continued to launch unrelenting rocket attacks into Israel – more than 6,900 projectiles since Oct. 7, according to Israel.
Speaking to lawmakers about Israel’s long-term plans for Gaza, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant laid out a three-stage plan that seemed to suggest Israel did not intend to reoccupy the territory it left in 2005.
First, Israeli airstrikes and ‘manoeuvring’ – a presumed reference to a ground attack – would aim to root out Hamas. Next will come a lower intensity fight to defeat remaining pockets of resistance. And, finally, a new ‘security regime’ will be created in Gaza along with ‘the removal of Israel’s responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip,’ Gallant said.
Gallant did not say who Israel expected to run Gaza if Hamas is toppled or what the new security regime would entail.
Israel occupied Gaza from 1967 until 2005, when it pulled up settlements and withdrew soldiers. Two years later, Hamas took over. Some Israelis blame the withdrawal from Gaza for the five wars and countless smaller exchanges of fire since then.
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Ashkelon, in southern Israel, October 20, 2023
Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023.
Palestinians walk by buildings destroyed in the Israeli bombardment on al-Zahra, on the outskirts of Gaza City, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023
The humanitarian crisis has worsened for Gaza’s civilians every day since Israel halted entry of supplies.
Over a million people have been displaced in Gaza. Many heeded Israel’s orders to evacuate from north to south within the sealed-off enclave on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. But Israel has continued to bomb areas in southern Gaza where Palestinians had been told to seek safety, and some appear to be going back to the north because of bombings and difficult living conditions in the south.
Gaza’s overwhelmed hospitals were rationing their dwindling resources.
Generators in Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, were operating at the lowest setting to conserve fuel while providing power to vital departments such as intensive care, hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia said. Others worked in darkness. The lack of medical supplies and water make it difficult to treat the mass of victims from the Israeli strikes, he said.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it had received a threat from the Israeli military to bomb Al-Quds Hospital. It said Israel has demanded the immediate evacuation of the Gaza City hospital, which has more than 400 patients and thousands of displaced civilians who sought refuge on its grounds, it said.
More than 200 trucks and some 3,000 tons of aid are positioned near the crossing. Israel said the supplies could only go to civilians and that it would ‘thwart’ any diversions by Hamas. It was unclear if fuel for the hospital generators would be allowed to enter.