‘Seize this opportunity’: Australians trapped in Gaza told to head to Egypt border

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Some Australians trapped in Gaza have been told to head to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, as reports emerged that some of the 88 trapped in the war zone may be on the list of 500 foreign nationals able to escape.

Dozens of people were filmed by Reuters news agency on Wednesday night (AEDT) moving through the Gaza Strip side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, dragging suitcases and backpacks or driving cars overloaded with luggage. It appeared to be the first time foreign passport holders have been allowed to leave the besieged territory since the start of the Israel-Hamas war more than three weeks ago.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has joined international allies and called for a humanitarian pause on hostilities in Gaza.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

As Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she had spoken to Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry two days ago, pressing for Australians to be allowed to leave, the ABC reported the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) had emailed some of the 88 Australians, saying they were on an initial list of approved people allowed to cross into Egypt.

The email told the Australians to “seize this opportunity to depart Gaza” if it was safe to do so and urged them to take enough food and water to last at least five hours. This masthead has not seen a copy of the email but has confirmed its accuracy with a third party in touch with an Australian family in Gaza.

Separately, Bloomberg and The New York Times reported the Hamas-run Interior Ministry had said workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and UNRWA would be allowed to leave, as well as some foreign nationals from Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan, Jordan and Indonesia.

Reuters reported that the Gulf state of Qatar, which maintains ties with Israel and Hamas, mediated a deal between the two sides to allow some critically wounded people and foreign passport holders out of Gaza into Egypt.

Ambulances could be seen waiting at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Israel, where the evacuations will take place.

There are an estimated 7000 foreign passport holders stranded in Gaza.

DFAT said it was “communicating with all individuals registered with us in Gaza about departure options, including to make them aware of the possibility of the opening of the Rafah border on 1 November”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, for the first time since war began, though his office did not provide any details of their conversation.

Netanyahu’s office said late on Tuesday he had spoken with several world leaders on Wednesday (AEDT) to update them on the Israeli operation, including UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides and Albanese.

Wong labelled images from the attack overnight on the Jabaliya refugee camp, near Gaza City – which left dozens dead but which Israel said was necessary to take out key Hamas leader Ibrahim Biari – “very distressing”.

The foreign minister told Sky News “we want to see our Australians out of Gaza. We have 88 Australians and their families … we want safe passage. We’ve called for humanitarian pauses to enable both aid and assistance to get in, and also for civilians to get out. We have an obligation as an Australian government to continue to advocate for the safety of Australian citizens.”

She said she had “no concrete update on whether Australians are in that initial group” that will be allowed to cross into Egypt.

The Wall Street Journal reported that senior Egyptian officials had confirmed a deal with the US and Israel to allow foreigners, as well as some severely wounded Palestinians, to leave Gaza in the coming days.

No one has been able to leave Gaza since Israel sealed the border ahead of the current ground invasion, in response to the atrocities committed by Hamas in the October 7 attacks on Israeli citizens, which left more than 1400 dead amid reports of rape, torture and mutilation.

Medical authorities in Hamas-run Gaza said on Tuesday that 8525 people, including 3542 minors, have been killed.

A view from the area after Israeli airstrikes on Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza.Credit: Getty

The airstrikes on the Jabaliya refugee camp levelled apartment buildings, killed dozens and left craters where they had once stood, according to the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, and came as Israeli ground troops battled Hamas militants across northern Gaza and attacked underground compounds.

Israel said the strike killed several Hamas militants, including Ibrahim Biari, who is claimed to have masterminded the October 7 attack.

Wong repeated that Australia unequivocally condemned Hamas “and its acts of terror”, and said that any state had a right to exercise self-defence.

“But we have also said to Israel and publicly that how you undertake that matters. Even in war there are principles and rules which must be followed. And we have advocated consistently for civilian lives to be protected, for humanitarian law to be observed, and we have advocated for restraint,” she said.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

“It is incumbent upon Israel to do all that it can to protect civilian life as it engages militarily.”

Earlier, opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham was asked whether he agreed with Wong’s warning this week that the world would not accept continuing civilian deaths.

“Tragically, there are civilian deaths that occur as a result of war,” Birmingham told Radio National.

“[This] is a war that Israel is fully entitled to wage, to see Hamas disabled and removed from the capacity to undertake such strikes in the future and to repeat those sorts of terrorist atrocities.”

He said Israel should minimise the loss of civilian lives during the war “as much as possible and continue to target Hamas infrastructure capabilities and people”, and called the deaths of children in the region a tragedy.

“It’s always hard to comprehend in terms of the heartbreak that has been caused by Hamas’ actions and consequent actions to remove Hamas from power.”

Birmingham added that Hamas’ actions had been horrific and caused the single largest death toll of Jewish people on a single day since the Holocaust.

With Olivia Ireland, Bloomberg, AP and Reuters

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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