U.S. citizens in Gaza should make their way to the border post linking the south of the Palestinian enclave with Egypt, the U.S. State Department has told Newsweek, amid uncertainty about the status of the Rafah crossing, which has been closed for days.
There is growing condemnation at Israel’s order to residents in the north of Gaza to head south, as the death toll mounts following the attack by Hamas on southern Israel and the subsequent Israeli bombardments of the enclave.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have dropped flyers telling people in Gaza to evacuate their homes ahead of an anticipated invasion. It follows the Israeli pledge to destroy Hamas, which controls the strip to the west of Israel.
Egyptian officials said the southern Rafah crossing would open later on Saturday for the first time in days to allow foreigners out, according to the Associated Press. The news agency cited an unnamed official who said Israel and Palestinian militant groups had agreed to facilitate the departures.
The U.S. State Department said it was “working to secure the safe exit of U.S. citizens from Gaza,” adding that it had told American citizens with whom it was in contact, “if they assess it to be safe, they may wish to move closer to the Rafah border crossing.”
“There may be very little notice if the crossing opens, and it may only open for a limited time,” a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek in a statement on Saturday.
“We will continue to be in touch with private U.S. citizens to determine what assistance we may be able to provide,” the statement added, without specifying whether non-Americans would also be able to leave via the crossing.
However, Arabic language news outlet Asharq said there were reports that Egypt was refusing the passage to U.S. citizens through the Rafah crossing, unless an agreement included the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip.
“Holders of American citizenship received letters indicating that their transportation arrangements and their departure from Gaza through the crossing had been cancelled,” Asharq journalist Mohamed Shohood posted on X (formerly Twitter)
Meanwhile, Palestinian content creator Mohamed Aborjelaa, who has been at the crossing all day, told the BBC that around 500 people holding foreign passports have been trying to get out, with no success. “The border crossing itself isn’t safe; there’s bombing and there’s no shelter,” Aborjelaa told the news outlet.
There has been uncertainty about whether the crossing could be accessible for Palestinians. Egyptian authorities erected temporary blast walls on Egypt’s side of the crossing, fearing a mass exodus of Palestinians, and Egyptian security sources said that Cairo would not accept an influx of Palestinian refugees.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry had issued a statement on Friday that called for Gaza residents to ignore the Israeli warning to leave their homes and head south. It said this would expose more than 1 million people “to the dangers of remaining in the bare outdoors, with no shelter, facing grave and harsh humanitarian and security conditions.”
Newsweek has contacted the Egyptian Foreign Ministry via email for comment.