(Reuters) -The first foreign passport holders and injured Gazans to be evacuated from the Palestinian enclave passed through the Rafah crossing into Egypt on Wednesday, under a deal mediated by Qatar.
Under the deal brokered between Egypt, Israel and Hamas, 81 wounded people and an initial list of 500 foreign passport holders were expected to be allowed out of the Gaza Strip in the coming days, sources in several countries said.
The limited evacuations come more than three weeks into a total blockade of Gaza by Israel, which has been bombarding the densely populated enclave and has sent in ground troops in response to an attack by Hamas fighters on Israel on Oct. 7.
The first group of foreign passport holders to reach the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing were undergoing security checks, according to a source at the border. Three buses carrying 160 foreign passport holders had set off from Gaza, an official on the Gazan side of the border said.
Earlier, a first group of injured people crossed in ambulances and were examined by Egyptian medical teams who directed them to different hospitals depending on the severity of their conditions.
Egypt has prepared a field hospital in Sheikh Zuweid, 15 km (9 miles) from Rafah, and also plans to direct some patients to several permanent hospitals in its Sinai region or further afield in the city of Ismailia, for the most serious cases.
Nahed Abu Taeema, director of the Nasser Hospital in the Gaza Strip, told Reuters 19 critically injured patients from his hospital would be among the 81 being evacuated to Egypt.
“Those require advanced surgeries that can’t be done here because of the lack of capabilities, especially women and children,” said Abu Taeema.
As of 1300 GMT, three patients from Gaza had arrived at Al Arish hospital and another one at Bir al-Abed hospital, according to a witness.
Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct. 7 have killed at least 8,796 Palestinians, including 3,648 children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Israel launched the strikes after Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 300 soldiers and 1,100 civilians, and taking more than 200 hostages, according to Israeli figures.
NGO STAFF, MIX OF NATIONALITIES
There was no immediate confirmation of the identities or nationalities of the first foreign passport holders to leave Gaza, but sources in several countries gave details of what had been agreed under the deal.
A list appearing to show the first batch of foreign passport holders cleared for evacuation, published on the Facebook page of the Gaza border crossings authority, showed groups from Japan, Austria, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Jordan, Australia, Czech Republic and Finland, as well as staff from some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
One source with knowledge of the deal said nationals of Muslim countries were being given priority, and citizens of other countries would be ranked by alphabetical order.
Two Filipino doctors working for medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were expected to be among the first to leave Gaza, a Philippine foreign ministry official said.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said his country was negotiating for Turkish citizens to be let out.
A list of foreign nationals to be allowed to leave Gaza had been agreed between Israel and Egypt, and relevant embassies had been informed, a Western official said.
Britain said it expected British nationals to leave in stages over the coming days.
The Rafah crossing, controlled by Egypt, is the main entrance and exit point to Gaza from Egypt and is in a region tightly controlled by the Egyptian military, which battled an Islamist insurgency there that peaked after 2013 and has now been largely suppressed.
With Egypt wary of insecurity, only people who have obtained security clearance from Egyptian authorities are allowed close to the Rafah crossing.
The limited evacuations are not expected to lead to a longer, unlimited opening of the crossing.
Egypt, which along with Israel has upheld a blockade of Gaza since Hamas took power there in 2007, has rejected the idea of any mass displacement of Palestinians fleeing Gaza into its Sinai region.
(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia, Ahmed Mohamed Hassan and Nafisa Eltahir in Cairo, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Maya Gebeily in Beirut; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Janet Lawrence)