American Citizens Fleeing Gaza Say Border Crossing Still Closed


American citizens said they were stranded at Gaza’s border with Egypt on Saturday afternoon despite a U.S. official saying earlier that an agreement had been reached to allow them safe passage from the blockaded enclave.

The official said that both Israel and Egypt had agreed to allow Americans to go through the Rafah crossing from Gaza between noon and 5 p.m. local time. But as of 4 p.m., the crossing remained closed, according to two families.

“This is absolutely nerve-racking,” said Lena Beseiso, 57, who was waiting on the Gaza side of the border with her husband, two of her daughters and a 10-year-old grandson, in a text message. “I’m so worried now more than ever before.”

There was no immediate comment from the State Department. The official who earlier had spoken of the agreement said it had been unclear whether Hamas, which controls Gaza, would allow the safe passage. There also had been no confirmation from Egyptian authorities that they would open the crossing.

Wael Abu Omar, the Palestinian spokesman for the Rafah crossing, confirmed by text message that the crossing was closed. Both he and a diplomat familiar with the matter said that Egypt had said it wouldn’t allow the foreign nationals to leave unless humanitarian assistance was allowed to enter Gaza. The diplomat spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Ms. Beseio, who lives in Salt Lake City and had been in Gaza visiting relatives, said she and her family had tried to leave Gaza on Tuesday but that the Israeli military had bombed the Rafah crossing.

She said that she had received messages from the State Department on Saturday instructing Americans in Gaza to head to the border with Egypt. Scores of people were still waiting there as the window for crossing narrowed, she said.

“Everyone here is frightened something goes wrong,” Ms. Beseio said. “I have hope it will open. We’ll wait a little longer.”

Abdulla Okal said his wife, Haneen, who was in Gaza to be near family while giving birth, was also waiting at the border with their three children and extended family. Mr. Okal, who is in New Jersey, shared a text message from his wife with The New York Times that said “the gate is still closed” and that she and the children were “scared.”

“Is this real?” Ms. Okal wrote at around 3 p.m. “How did the U.S. Embassy tell people to come to the Rafah crossing border and the gate is closed?”

Mr. Okal said that he was worried for his wife and family as it will “be dark soon.”

As 5 p.m. came and went, Abood Okal — a Massachusetts resident and the brother of Haneen — was still waiting at the locked crossing with his wife, 1-year-old son and the rest of the extended family.

“Now we don’t know what the plan is,” he said by phone. “We don’t know where to go. It’s terrifying to look at people’s faces and see the unknown in their eyes.”

Edward Wong contributed reporting.


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