Israeli forces are knocking on the “gates of Gaza City,” reaching the densely populated urban center on the same day hundreds of people − including some Americans − were allowed to escape the Gaza Strip through its southern crossing with Egypt.
Egypt allowed hundreds of foreign passport holders, including a few Americans, and dozens of seriously injured Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip to flee through the Rafah crossing Wednesday as the humanitarian crisis intensified and the war’s combined death toll reported by Palestinian and Israeli authorities climbed above 10,000.
The U.S. State Department said multiple Americans left Gaza for Egypt and others are expected to follow suit in the coming days, but did not specify how many made it out. Department spokesman Matthew Miller said about 400 U.S. citizens are seeking to leave the territory, and along with their family members, the total trying to exit is close to 1,000.
“We do expect to be able to get all our Americans out. It will take time,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “This was the first step.”
Among those escaping the persistent Israeli bombardment were 335 foreign passport holders, mostly Palestinian dual nationals but also some foreigners, along with 76 seriously injured in wounded patients bound for Egyptian hospitals and some staffers from aid organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.
Egypt is concerned about taking in Palestinian refugees whom Israel might not allow back after the war, and also about a mass exodus from Gaza that could bring Hamas members and other extremists to its population. Egypt has supported Israel’s blockade of Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.
More than 2 million Palestinians remain trapped in Gaza, many exposed to the Israeli airstrikes that followed the brutal attack by Hamas militants on Israeli border communities Oct. 7.
“The situation in shelters remains critical, with very limited assistance available and no additional space to accommodate the increasing number of internally displaced people,” the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees said in a statement.
The UNRWA said more than 670,000 Palestinians living in about 150 UNWRA shelters across Gaza are “facing deteriorating humanitarian conditions and health and protection risks.”
Now Israeli soldiers are pouring into Gaza as the ground invasion drives more Palestinians from their homes. “The eyes of the whole world are looking at us,” Israeli Brigadier General Itzik Cohen told ground troops entering Gaza. “The people of Israel trust us and stand behind us.”
Contributing: Michael Collins
Dozens killed in Israeli airstrike:Hamas commander among the dead in Gaza
∎ The Israel Defense Forces said in a tweet that it “eliminated” Muhammad A’sar, whom it described as the chief of Hamas’ anti-tank missile unit in Gaza and the leader of attacks against Israeli forces and civilians.
∎ The government of Cyprus said it is working toward sending ships loaded with medical supplies, food and clothing to Gaza after its president, Nikos Christodoulides, got the OK on Tuesday during a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
∎ U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is appalled over the escalating violence in Gaza,” including the killing of Palestinians by Israeli airstrikes in the Jabaliya refugee camp Tuesday and Wednesday, his spokesman said.
∎ The Palestinian death toll has reached 8,805, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza. In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, 130 Palestinians have been killed, authorities there said. More than 1,400 Israelis have died, most of them civilians killed in the first hours of the Oct. 7 Hamas rampage, Israeli authorities say. About 240 people were taken hostage.
Inside an American family’s fight:Family desperate to free their loved ones held hostage by Hamas
Israeli airstrikes hit apartment buildings in the Jabaliya refugee camp, a Hamas stronghold near Gaza City, for a second day in a row Wednesday, causing an undetermined number of deaths and injuries, the Hamas-run government said. The Israeli military said it had “significantly expanded” ground operations in the area.
The attack came a day after a flurry of Israeli airstrikes Tuesday on the largest refugee camp in Gaza caused dozens of casualties, flattened apartment buildings and killed what the Israeli military said was a Hamas commander and numerous militants who had established headquarters in the camp. The buildings tumbled when Hamas tunnels beneath them collapsed, Israeli Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a press briefing Wednesday.
“These once again demonstrate how murderous terrorists use civilians as a ‘human shield,’ civilians whom we have called upon to evacuate for their own safety,” Hagari said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday’s arrest of a Cornell University student for threatening Jewish students illustrated Justice Department coordination with local law enforcement to combat hate crimes.
Patrick Dai, 21, of Pittsford, N.Y., was charged with posting threatening messages in an online discussion calling for the deaths of Jewish people. One post said “gonna shoot up 104 west,” referring to a dining hall that caters predominantly to Kosher diets located next to the Cornell Jewish Center.
Garland noted a “significant increase in the volume and frequency” of threats against Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities nationwide since the start of the Israel-Hamas war Oct. 7.
“As this arrest shows, we are focusing our efforts on confronting and disrupting illegal threats wherever they arise,” Garland said Wednesday at a Washington seminar for a program he initiated called “United Against Hate.” “The Justice Department has no tolerance for violence or unlawful threats of violence fueled by antisemitism or Islamophobia.”
Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said reported hate crimes remain at the highest levels in more than a decade. Prosecuting the cases is a top priority, and more than 80 defendants have been charged since January 2021, she said.
− Bart Jansen
Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday that it has filed a complaint for war crimes committed against some of the 34 journalists killed since the war began. The complaint includes eight Palestinian journalists killed in Gaza and one Israeli journalist in Israel. The group says the deaths justify an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
The complaint says the Palestinian journalists were killed − and two others wounded − in bombings of Gaza. The Israeli journalist was killed during Hamas’ attack in southern Israel the day the war began. Other deaths are still being investigated and could draw war crime complaints, the group said.
The group also cites the” deliberate, total or partial, destruction” of the newsrooms of more than 50 media outlets in Gaza.
The Biden administration is developing a national strategy to combat Islamophobia amid skepticism from many Muslim Americans, the Associated Press reported, citing people briefed on the matter. AP said the the White House originally was expected to announce plans to develop the strategy last week but was delayed partly because of concerns from Muslim Americans that the administration lacked credibility given its zealous support of Israel.
The launch has been anticipated since the administration in May released a national strategy to combat antisemitism that made passing reference to countering hatred against Muslims.
Najib Mikati, leading Lebanon’s paralyzed government, called Wednesday for a five-day cease-fire for humanitarian purposes as Hezbollah and Israeli troops continue to clash along Lebanon’s border. Mikati, struggling to keep the war from expanding into his country, said the pause would accommodate prisoner exchanges and allow for talks aimed at ending the fighting.
“The decision to go to war today is in Israel’s hands,” Mikati said.
Israel, which has steadfastly rejected previous calls for a cease-fire, said Wednesday that its military had intercepted a surface-to-air missile launched from Lebanese territory toward an Israeli drone. In response, Israeli aircraft struck the “origin of the missile launch, as well as the terrorists who carried out the launch,” the military said.
Brooklyn resident Alana Zeitchik’s life has been in turmoil since Oct. 7, when her mother called in a panic, worrying about the fate of six Jewish family members in Israel taken hostage by Hamas. Zeitchik’s days have been a mix of news and social media hits ever since. Trips to the United Nations. Meetings with lawmakers. Long-distance texts and voice messages to her family back in Israel desperately trying to find their relatives.
“I can’t wrap my brain around it. My mind goes to like the worst torture film I’ve seen, so I just can’t do it,” said Zeitchik, 38.
− Joey Garrison
Contributing: The Associated Press