After weeks in besieged Gaza, some foreign nationals and wounded Palestinians are allowed to leave
NAJIB JOBAIN, JACK JEFFERY and LEE KEATH
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Hundreds of foreign nationals and dozens of seriously injured Palestinians were allowed to leave Gaza on Wednesday after more than three weeks under siege, while Israeli airstrikes destroyed apartments in a densely populated area for the second straight day.
The first people to leave Gaza -- other than four hostages released by Hamas and another rescued by Israeli forces -- crossed into Egypt, escaping the territory's growing misery as bombings drive hundreds of thousands from their homes, and food, water and fuel run low. It remained unclear how many more people would be allowed to leave Gaza in coming days.
The latest strikes in the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City demolished multi-story apartment buildings, and dozens of men afterward dug through the rubble, searching for survivors, according to footage from Al-Jazeera television, one of the few media outlets still reporting from northern Gaza. It showed several wounded people, including children, being brought to a nearby hospital.
The strikes killed and wounded many people, the Hamas-run government said, but the exact toll was not yet known.
The toll was also unknown from Tuesday's strikes on buildings in the same camp, though the director of a nearby hospital said hundreds were killed or wounded. Israel said those strikes destroyed military tunnels beneath the buildings and killed dozens of Hamas fighters, including a senior commander involved in the militants' bloody Oct. 7 rampage that ignited the war.
In a sign of increasing alarm over the war among Arab countries, Jordan on Wednesday recalled its ambassador from Israel and told Israel's ambassador to remain out of the country. Jordan, a key U.S. ally, signed a peace deal with Israel in 1994.
Jordan's deputy prime minister, Ayman al-Safadi, said the return of the ambassadors is linked to Israel "stopping its war on Gaza … and the humanitarian catastrophe it is causing." He warned that the conflict could spread and threaten "the security of the entire region."
ISRAELI ARMY ADVANCES DEEPER INTO GAZA
Israeli troops pushed toward Gaza City, the territory's largest city. Internet and phone service was cut for several hours Wednesday, a replay of the temporary communications blackout when Israeli ground troops first advanced in large numbers into Gaza over the weekend.
Over half of Gaza's 2.3 million people have fled their homes, and supplies of food, medicine, water and fuel are running low. A territory-wide blackout has left hospitals reliant on generators that could soon be forced to shut down.
The strikes in Jabaliya underlined the anticipated surge in casualties on both sides as Israeli troops advance toward the dense residential neighborhoods of Gaza City. Israeli officials say Hamas' military infrastructure, including hundreds of kilometers (miles) of underground tunnels, is concentrated in the city, which was home to some 650,000 people before the war.
BORDER OPENS TO ALLOW SOME PEOPLE OUT
By mid-afternoon Wednesday, 335 foreign passport holders left Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt, according to Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority.
Seventy-six Palestinian patients, along with their companions, have been evacuated for treatment in Egypt, Abu Omar said. Ten other patients set to be brought out died before they could be evacuated, Dr. Mohamed Zaqout, a Health Ministry official in Gaza, told The Associated Press. The criteria for medical evacuation were not immediately clear.
The authority said the plan was for more than 400 foreign passport holders to leave for Egypt. The White House said it expected a "handful" of American citizens to be among them, and German, French and British officials said their citizens were among the evacuees.
Hundreds more remain in Gaza, and talks on further evacuations were reportedly continuing among Egypt, Israel and Qatar, which has been mediating with Hamas. The U.S. has said it is trying to get out 400 Americans with their families.
Egypt has said it will not accept an influx of Palestinian refugees because of fears Israel will not allow them to return to Gaza after the war.
HOSPITALS WARN OF DEPLETING FUEL
Hospitals in Gaza expressed increasing alarm that their generators running life-saving equipment were on the verge of going dead after weeks of Israel barring entry of fuel.
Only hours of electricity remained at Gaza City's largest hospital, Shifa, according to its director, Mohammed Abu Salmia, who pleaded for "whoever has a liter of diesel in his home" to donate it.
The Turkish-Palestinian Hospital, Gaza's only facility offering specialized treatment for cancer patients, was forced to shut down because of lack of fuel, leaving 70 cancer patients in a critical situation, the Health Ministry said.
The World Health Organization said the lack of fuel puts at risk 1,000 patients on kidney dialysis, 130 premature babies in incubators, as well as cancer patients and patients on ventilators.
The communications blackout for hours Wednesday caused further turmoil, though the Palestinian telecom company Paltel said internet and mobile phone services were gradually being restored. The International Committee of the Red Cross said such blackouts make "even the potentially life-saving act of calling an ambulance" impossible.
DEATH TOLL KEEPS RISING
More than 8,800 Palestinians have been killed in the war, mostly women and minors, and more than 22,000 people have been wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Wednesday, without providing a breakdown between civilians and fighters. The figure is without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas' initial attack, also an unprecedented figure. Palestinian militants also abducted around 240 people during their incursion and have continued firing rockets into Israel.
Sixteen Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the start of the ground operation.
Israel has been vague about its operations in Gaza. But its forces appear to be moving in from the north and east of Gaza City as well as trying to take control of the territory's two main north-south roads, according to residents and spokesmen for militant groups battling the troops.
An estimated 800,000 Palestinians have fled south from northern Gaza following Israeli evacuation orders, but hundreds of thousands remain.
Israel has allowed more than 260 trucks carrying food and medicine to enter from Egypt over the past 10 days, but aid workers say it's not nearly enough.
AFTER WAR, THEN WHAT?
Israel has vowed to crush Hamas' ability to govern Gaza or threaten Israel. But it has said little about who would govern Gaza afterward.
In congressional testimony Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested that "it would make the most sense" for President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority to govern and have security responsibility for Gaza.
Hamas drove the authority's forces out of Gaza in heavy fighting in 2007, leaving it with limited control over parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinian support for the authority has plunged, with many dismissing it as little more than Israel's police force because it helps suppress militant groups while unable to prevent the spread of settlements in the West Bank.
In other developments:
— In the West Bank, Israeli forces raided the Jenin refugee camp Wednesday morning, killing three Palestinians, local health officials said. The Israeli military said it carried out a drone strike in the camp, hitting several militants. Since the war began, 130 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, either by Israeli forces or by Jewish settlers.
Jeffery and Keath reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Wafaa Shurafa in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, Amy Teibel in Jerusalem and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.