Seriously ill children can leave Gaza for the first time since May

Israel and Egypt agreed to allow at least 19 sick children, most of them cancer patients, to leave Gaza for medical treatment on Thursday, Israeli and Palestinian officials said, in the first major evacuation of critically ill Gazans since the Rafah border crossing was closed in early May.

The Israeli military said the operation was conducted in coordination with the United States, Egypt and the international community. In total, 68 people, including sick and injured patients and their companions, were allowed to leave, the army said.

More than 10,000 sick and injured people in Gaza require urgent care that is available only outside the enclave, the World Health Organization said this week. These include those injured in airstrikes, as well as cancer patients, children with life-threatening illnesses and the elderly who need open-heart surgery.

Even before the war, many Gazans were forced to travel abroad for life-saving treatments, such as chemotherapy, which were almost nonexistent in the Gaza Strip. The enclave's health sector has struggled for more than 15 years under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade intended to contain Hamas.

But the main channel through which Gazans could leave – the Rafah crossing with Egypt – was closed after Israeli forces captured the border in May during a military offensive. Egypt closed one side of the gate in protest, and the Gaza portion was later destroyed by fire, according to the Israeli military, apparently dashing hopes that it would be reopened in the near future.

At least two sick Gazans, scheduled to leave in early May, have died, their families said.

With the Rafah crossing closed, the group of children evacuated Thursday were taken into Israeli territory through another crossing point, Kerem Shalom, before being taken to Egypt. The move does not appear to immediately herald a new permanent route for the seriously ill to leave Gaza safely.

One of the children who made the crossing on Thursday was a 10-month-old girl named Sadeel Hamdan.

For months, his family had watched with growing fear as Sadeel's condition worsened. His belly had swelled like a balloon due to severe liver failure and she was in desperate need of a transplant, said his father, Tamer Hamdan.

On Thursday morning — after weeks of waiting — Mr. Hamdan and Sadeel were finally allowed to leave the enclave. After crossing into Israel, they were ferried along with other patients to Nitzana, an Israeli village, where they crossed into Egyptian territory, he said.

“Thank God,” said Hamdan, who was reached by phone as he sat in a bus on the Egyptian side of the checkpoint. “We are so happy to have gotten Sadeel out safely. Now we just need to complete the treatment.”

Their departure from Gaza, however, was bittersweet.
Mr Hamdan traveled with his daughter to be a partial liver donor, but his wife and three other children were not allowed to join them. He said he feared for their fate in Gaza.

“We are all going into the unknown,” he said.

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