Twenty Australian citizens, one permanent resident and two family members have safely made it out of Gaza into Egypt where they were met by Australian consular officials to help them return home, providing short-term accommodation in Cairo and helping book commercial flights to Australia.
Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong expressed relief as she confirmed they were among at least 335 foreign nationals who were able to leave Gaza overnight Australian time. “We’ve been working towards this for a very long time and I’m so relieved we have seen some Australians able to leave,” Senator Wong said.
An approved list published by the Gaza border crossing authority and seen by Australian Associated Press (AAP) has 26 Australian citizens and eight Palestinians under the Australian category as having being cleared to enter Egypt at the Rafah Crossing, including 10 children aged as young as one-year-old. It is unknown whether all who were listed have since crossed.
Senator Wong revealed around 20 other Australian citizens and family members remained trapped in the enclave where Israeli troops are escalating their air and ground offensive against Hamas. This appears to be fewer than the 88 Australian nationals which the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) said it was helping leave Gaza — unless they included more than 40 family members.
“The situation in Gaza continues to be highly challenging and can change rapidly, we are doing all we can to facilitate their departure as soon as possible. DFAT will also continue to provide support to any individuals registered with us who are unable or do not want to depart Gaza,” a department spokesman said.
The Gulf state of Qatar reportedly brokered a deal between Egypt, Hamas and Israel and co-ordinated by the US, for the crossing to open. 76 wounded people were also allowed into Egypt and will be treated at a field hospital set up near the border.
Assistant foreign minister Tim Watts confirmed more than 15,000 Australians are still in Lebanon. They have been urged to leave amid fears the Gaza conflict could spread to other nations. Mr. Watts added there were no plans for repatriation flights from Lebanon and that the Australians should use commercial flights. “Our strong advice to Australians in Lebanon is take the option to leave now. We can’t make any guarantees that Beirut airport will remain open if the conflict spreads to the south of Lebanon and departure options become much more complex,” he added.
Israeli ground troops have advanced to “the gates of Gaza City” in heavy fighting with Hamas militants. With almost 8,800 deaths reported, but unconfirmed, in Gaza – almost half of them children – casualties on both sides are expected to rise as Israeli forces advance toward dense residential neighbourhoods where Hamas command centres, military infrastructure and tunnels are believed to be concentrated.
Rocket fire from Gaza into Israel is continuing, disrupting life for millions of people and forcing an estimated 250,000 people to evacuate towns in northern and southern Israel. Most rockets are intercepted, but some have gotten through, causing a small number of deaths and damaging buildings as far away as Tel Aviv.
With Australian Associated Press