Ambulances transported wounded residents out of Gaza for urgent medical care in Egypt Wednesday, with hundreds of desperate foreign passport holders also starting to flee the territory wracked by three weeks of war with Israel.
The evacuation of the first people to escape war-torn Gaza provided a rare glimmer of hope in an otherwise desolate humanitarian crisis.
A first group of civilian evacuees from Gaza crossed into Egypt under a Qatari-mediated deal on Wednesday while Israeli forces bombed the Palestinian enclave from land, sea and air as they a pressed their offensive against Hamas militants.
The evacuees, who had been trapped in Gaza since the start of the war more than three weeks ago, were driven in ambulances through the Rafah border crossing.
Reports from the Reuters news agency say they were undergoing security checks on the Egyptian side.
Reporters from the French news agency AFP also report seeing a column of 40 white ambulances streaming through the Rafah border crossing, as crowds of foreign and dual national families gathered nearby, hoping to leave the catastrophic conditions of Gaza behind them.
At least two children were seen in the ambulances, one with a large bandage wrapped around his stomach, as medics examined the wounded and transferred them to stretchers.
"We've faced many problems in Gaza, the least of which were the shortage of water and the power outage. There were bigger problems such as the bombardment. We were afraid. Many families were martyred," Jordanian citizen Saleh Hussein told AFP, adding she received word in the middle of the night that she was on the list for evacuation.
- Egypt to receive wounded Gazans through key crossing: sources
Suffering and humiliation
The Hamas-run health ministry estimates that 8,796 people have so far been killed in Israeli bombing.
Israel said 11 soldiers died in ground fighting in Gaza on Tuesday, taking to 326 the number of troops killed since 7 October.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "continue until victory" over Hamas, after the brutal 7 October attack sparked the latest conflict, the deadliest in decades of unrest between the two sides.
From Rafah, AFPTV images showed Wednesday whole families, struggling to carry their worldly possessions, rushing through the heavily fortified crossing towards Egypt.
The crossing was expected to admit at least 400 foreign passport holders from today and 90 of the most seriously wounded and sick.
A first group of mostly women and children arrived in Egypt, an official told AFP on condition of anonymity, as TV images showed parents with pushchairs and elderly people clambering off a bus.
"It's enough. We've endured enough humiliation," said Gaza resident Rafik al-Hilou, accompanying relatives including children aged one and four hoping to cross into Egypt.
"We lack the most basic human needs. No internet, no phones, no means of communication, not even water. For the past four days, we haven't been able to feed this child a piece of bread. What are you waiting for?"
Israeli officials said 70 aid trucks entered Gaza from Egypt Tuesday, one of the biggest ever daily flows, but far less than humanitarian groups say is needed.
Fearing supplies entering Gaza could be diverted to Hamas, or that aid shipments could conceal arms, Israeli security personnel carry out stringent inspections that have slowed the flow of aid to a trickle.
'No hope in Gaza'
The flaring humanitarian crisis in Gaza has been described by the United Nations and other aid agencies as "unprecedented".
A strike on Gaza's largest refugee camp, Jabalia, killed at least 47 people Tuesday, including a Hamas commander involved in the October attacks, according to Israel.
Hamas said seven hostages, including three foreign passport holders, had died in the bombing, a claim impossible to verify.
Israel also said its warplanes had hit a "vast" tunnel complex at the site, killing "many Hamas terrorists", including local battalion commander Ibrahim Biari.
Meanwhile, the situation in Gaza remained desperate, with food, fuel and medicine for the 2.4 million residents all running short, according to aid groups.
"There is no hope in the Gaza Strip," resident Amen al-Aqluk told AFP. "It is not safe anymore here. When the border opens, everybody will leave and emigrate. We encounter death everyday, 24 hours a day."
(with AFP and Reuters)