Hundreds of foreign nationals left Gaza Sunday through the Erez border crossing with Israel. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, received 812 requests from foreign nationals, most of which were approved. According to an officer in the COGAT office, all those approved left Sunday, along with 50 others whose requests had been mediated by foreign consulates.
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Buses arrived in the morning and carried these residents to the Allenby border crossing with Jordan. According to instructions issued by defense officials these buses proceeded directly to the Allenby crossing, accompanied by military police vans and representatives from foreign consulates.
As part of the process, those leaving also had to cross a Hamas checkpoint, a Palestinian Authority checkpoint and a security check at the Erez crossing.
“My family lives in Gaza but I’ve been living in Norway for seven years,” said a woman who wished to remain unnamed. “My mother is very ill and has never seen my two-year old daughter, which is why I came on a visit. I really regret coming. All night my baby sleeps with her hands over her ears, fearing the sounds of explosions. I did manage to see my mother, but I’m sorry I came.”
When asked to describe what Gaza looks like, she replied: “It’s terrible, but we’re also sorry about the other side. There is a war between the two sides but the victims are civilians.”
She says that her mother really wants to leave Gaza but can’t. “My family was very happy that I was leaving. I’m not used to such sights. They are all suffering and frightened. Yesterday was the worst night with the bombing going on and on. I’ll never come back. Never.”
'Yussef, I'm taking you back to Canada'
Aashraf Abushaban, owner of the Kazem ice cream parlor in Gaza, also left Gaza for Canada, along with his son Yussef. “I made a very difficult decision. I left so many things behind – my business, my mother, my family. I looked at my only son Yussef, who was becoming sick, and I told him: “Yussef, I’m taking you back to Canada”, says Abushaban. “I know it’s hard leaving your city, especially during a war, but things have reached a critical stage.”
Abushaban says that there is no business activity in Gaza now and all the shops are closed.
“To be honest,” he says, “Gazans are used to war. And war is terrible. But I think people couldn’t take it (the economic situation) any longer. Most people are saying ‘enough.’ Believe me, most people in Gaza want to live in peace, but the closure of the Strip is killing them. The crossings into both Israel and Egypt are closed, but I hope that Israel and Egypt will offer some relief to Gaza residents. I believe that when you live in a prison you become angry and nervous. If business and border crossings are open people don’t think of war, since life continues smoothly.”
Most of the people who left Gaza were American or British nationals, and there are dozens more with Canadian, Norwegian, Swedish, Romanian, Australian, Greek, Serbian and Turkish passports. According to the officer from COGAT, every request from a foreign consulate was addressed, including a request by 25 Turkish nationals to leave.
“Nationals from countries with diplomatic relations with Israel are allowed to leave – this way we can minimize the risk of foreign nationals getting hurt inadvertently,” said the officer.
During the passage of the Gaza residents through the crossing an alert was sounded and everyone moved to protected areas. COGAT informed the air force of the passage in order to prevent strikes in the area.
Anmasalih, a 16-year old girl who didn’t want to give her last name, says that she is “from Palestine, but my parents live in the United States, where we are now going. It’s unsafe to be in Gaza now. People are afraid. The bombings were very scary in recent days.”
Abd-e-Rahman Menaf Mesalem, an 11-year old boy, arrives at the crossing with his grandfather Mahmoud and his little sister Asma. On his back is a small schoolboy’s backpack, and throughout our talk he clutches his tablet.
“This is the second time I visited Gaza. Last time I was here for a month. I live in the U.S. It’s scary now and I’m glad to be leaving,” the boy says.
Also leaving is Marco Bottelli, a freelance Italian photographer who has spent the last few days in Gaza. “It’s dangerous to be there these days, unless you’re in a ‘good’ area,” he says, explaining why he left. “They (the air force) know what they are targeting, but things are far from normal. There are hardly any people in the streets and no one knows what is around the corner, whether things will be even more dangerous a few hours down the road.”