Critically Ill Children Allowed to Leave Gaza for First Time Since May

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Critically Ill Children Allowed to Leave Gaza for 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 shut down in early May.

The Israeli military said the operation had been carried out in coordination with the United States, Egypt and the international community. In total, 68 people — sick and injured patients and their escorts — were allowed to leave, the military said.

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

Even before the war, many Gazans were forced to travel abroad for lifesaving treatments, like chemotherapy, which were almost nonexistent in the Gaza Strip. The enclave’s health sector has struggled for over 15 years under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade intended to contain Hamas.

But the main conduit through which Gazans could leave — the Rafah crossing with Egypt — shut down after Israeli forces captured the border in May during a military offensive. Egypt shuttered its side of the gateway in protest, and the Gazan part was later destroyed in a fire, according to the Israeli military, seemingly dashing hopes that it would be reopened in the near future.

At least two sick Gazans who were slated to leave in early May have died, their family members said.

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

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

For months, her family had looked on with growing dread as Sadeel’s condition deteriorated. Her belly swelled like a balloon because of severe liver failure, and she desperately needed a transplant, her father, Tamer Hamdan, said.

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

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

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

“We’re all heading into the unknown,” he said.

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