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First evacuations from Gaza as refugee camp hit again

Hundreds of injured residents and foreigners escaped Gaza to Egypt on Wednesday, the first evacuations from the war-torn Palestinian territory pounded by Israeli warplanes in retaliation for an unprecedented Hamas attack. The brief glimmer of hope sparked by the temporary opening of the Rafah border crossing was quickly snuffed out as a new strike pulverised buildings in Gaza’s biggest refugee camp for a second consecutive day, killing dozens according to the Palestinian health ministry. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “continue until victory” over Hamas, whose brutal October 7 attack sparked the latest conflict, the deadliest in decades of unrest between the two sides. His defence minister, Yoav Gallant, said Hamas had two options: to “die or to surrender unconditionally”. AFP reporters at Gaza’s southern border saw ambulances whisking away the wounded to Egyptian field hospitals, including one young boy with heavy bandaging around his stomach. Whole families, struggling to carry their worldly possessions, rushed through the heavily fortified crossing towards Egypt, which said it had admitted 335 foreigners or dual nationals and 76 seriously wounded and sick people. The foreigners included 31 Austrians, four Italians, five French nationals and some Germans, their governments said. US President Joe Biden said some Americans were expected to leave Gaza on Wednesday. Jordanian citizen Umm Saleh Hussein said water and electricity shortages were “the least” of the hardships Gazans were facing. “There were bigger problems such as the bombardment. We were afraid. Many families were martyred,” she told AFP. A group of mostly women and children were the first to arrive in Egypt, with TV images showing 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 enter 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?” – ‘Slaughtered and killed’ – The Jabalia camp in Gaza was struck for a second time in two days, with AFPTV images from Wednesday’s strike showing extensive damage and rescuers clawing through rubble to extract blood-stained casualties. Dozens were killed and wounded, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, which came a day after Israeli jets hit the camp, killing at least 47 people, according to an AFP count. Rescuers said “whole families” had died, but casualty details could not be immediately confirmed. Israel’s military did not comment. UN chief Antonio Guterres condemned Israel’s strikes on the Gaza refugee camp. “The secretary-general is appalled over the escalating violence in Gaza, including the killing of Palestinians, including women and children in Israeli air strikes in residential areas of the densely populated Jabalia refugee camp,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Israel said Tuesday’s raid was a successful hit on top Hamas commander Ibrahim Biari, but the large death toll drew a chorus of international condemnation in the region and as far afield as Bolivia, which severed diplomatic ties in protest. Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel “to condemn the Israeli war that is killing innocent people in Gaza”. Hamas said seven of the 240 hostages it is holding, including three foreign passport holders, had died in Tuesday’s bombing, a claim impossible to verify. The group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh accused Israel of committing “barbaric massacres against unarmed civilians”, saying it was covering its own “defeats”. Israel has relentlessly pounded Gaza in retribution for the worst attack in the country’s history, when Hamas gunmen stormed across the border, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials. AFP reporters saw more tanks pour into northern Gaza, as Israel stepped up its ground incursion launched late last week. Its bombing campaign has killed 8,796 people, according to Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry. Israel said 16 soldiers died in fighting since Tuesday in and near Gaza, bringing to 330 the number killed since October 7. AFP images showed tearful Israeli women in uniform hugging each other for comfort at the funeral of one of the troops killed. “People were just slaughtered and killed everywhere,” said 21-year-old Israeli Maya Keyy, from one of the communities torn apart by the Hamas attack. “As Jews we need to fight for our own existence… it’s like it’s a war that will never end.” – ‘No hope in Gaza’ – The situation in Gaza remained desperate, with food, fuel and medicine for the 2.4 million residents all running short, according to aid groups. A Gaza official said about 50 trucks carrying medicinal and food aid entered Gaza on Wednesday, among the biggest daily flows so far, but far less than humanitarian groups say is needed. Palestinian residents told AFP they had evacuated from northern Gaza, as demanded by Israel, but were still under threat. “We’ve been told people are evacuating from Gaza City towards the central area of the strip beyond the valley, so we headed there,” Amen al-Aqluk said. “After 20 days, we were bombarded. Three of our kids lost their lives and we all got injured. “There is no hope in the Gaza Strip. It is not safe any more here. When the border opens, everybody will leave and emigrate. We encounter death every day, 24 hours a day.” With fears mounting of a regional war, US President Joe Biden called for “urgent mechanisms” to dial down tensions and said top diplomat Antony Blinken would embark on another Middle East tour from Friday. Turkey and Iran called for a regional conference to prevent a conflagration, as Israel faces a daily barrage of aerial attacks from Hamas and other Iran-backed groups around the Middle East, including Yemen’s Huthi rebels. In the north, Israel has traded near-daily fire with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. And the families of hostages kidnapped by Hamas have endured an unbearable wait for news of relatives thought to be held in the labyrinth of tunnels deep below Gaza. Ayelet Sella, whose seven cousins were kidnapped from one of the communities raided by Hamas, said she could find “no rest” until her loved ones are returned. “We have no more tears, our eyes are dry, we are empty three weeks on,” Sella told AFP at the Great Synagogue in Paris. “I only ask for one thing, that they come back.”

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