CAIRO (Reuters) -Evacuations of injured Gazans and foreign passport holders through the Rafah crossing to Egypt have been suspended since Saturday, but Egyptian, U.S. and Qatari officials said there were efforts to resume them.
The evacuations were suspended after an Israeli strike on Friday on an ambulance in Gaza being used to transport injured people, Egyptian official sources said. The Israeli military said, without showing evidence, the vehicle was carrying Hamas militants.
The Rafah crossing to Egypt’s Sinai peninsula is the only exit point from Gaza not controlled by Israel. Aid trucks were still able to travel into the territory, two Egyptian sources said.
“We believe it will (open) this afternoon,” a senior U.S. State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Don’t hold me to it,” the official added.
Evacuations began on Wednesday under an internationally brokered deal aimed at letting some foreign passport holders, their dependents and some wounded Gazans out of the enclave. Unlike on previous days, the Gazan border authority on Sunday did not publish a list of approved foreign passport holders and dependents.
Hundreds of people have been evacuated in coordination with their home countries, along with dozens of injured Gazans who are receiving medical assistance in hospitals in Sinai.
An Egyptian official told Reuters that the Egyptian side of the border was open as usual for any evacuees, but that crossings were suspended because of bombardments in Gaza. Egypt was making “genuine efforts” to resume activity, the official said.
The U.S. diplomat said there had been a “a lot of work” to reopen the crossing over the past 24 hours and thought the problem would be resolved.
“Hamas is making additional demands and every time that happens, every time one side makes a demand, you have to go work out with every other party involved how to respond,” the U.S. diplomat said.
Qatar, which has played a major role in facilitating humanitarian aid and hostage releases, said it was also pushing to resume crossings but no timeline was set.
“The bombing of hospitals and the bombing of ambulances, which are part of this agreement for ambulance convoys to move patients out of harm’s way, certainly does not help,” said Majed Al Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a briefing on Sunday.
“We urge all parties, but especially the occupation army to make sure that there is safe routes and that the agreement, as it was reached, is respected,” he added.
The United Nations Secretary General and aid agencies working in Gaza have condemned Israel’s air strike on an ambulance on Friday.
The Health Ministry, a hospital director and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the Hamas-controlled enclave have said the Israeli strike targeted a convoy of ambulances evacuating wounded people from the besieged northern Gaza area.
(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia, Ahmed Mohamed Hassan in Cairo, Simon Lewis in Jerusalem, Aidan Lewis in London, and Andrew Mills in Doha; Writing by Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Conor Humphries and Andrew Heavens)