A group of Australians who were stuck in Gaza amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas have safely made their way to Egypt.
Twenty Australians citizens, two family members and a permanent resident have made it through the Rafah Border Crossing on Wednesday local time, the Australian government has confirmed.
The group will be supported with short-term accommodation in Cairo before they can board return flights to Australia on commercial airlines, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said.
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An Adelaide family of four is among those who have made their way to Egypt, 7NEWS.com.au has confirmed.
“(We) will be in Cairo in a few hours — finally,” said the father who has been trapped with his wife and two children in Gaza since the Hamas attacks on October 7, after arriving in September for a four-week visit with extended family and friends.
“On the one hand, I’m relieved that my small family are now safe … but my heart is torn apart to see the hometown brought down to rubble,” he said.
The family of Sydney woman Sara El Masry also confirmed she, her husband and two children have also made it to Egypt.
“It’s exciting. We can’t wait to see them. We haven’t been able to speak to them, once they left the border is the last we heard of them,” Sara’s sister, Mariam El Masry, said.
Hanaa Elmobayed, 53, from Melbourne is also among those who are en route to Cairo, her son Khalid confirmed.
“We are happy that our mum is coming back home, we’re grateful for the efforts of the Australian government … but it was a very hard decision to make for my mum,” Khalid Elmobayed said.
“She was able to escape the chaos that’s happening in Gaza but she had to leave her family behind.
“That recovery will not be easy for my mum … there’s a lot of trauma.”
The Australian government’s latest information indicates a total of 88 Australians were trapped in the Strip.
Some of them have made several attempts to cross the Rafah border crossing since the war between Israel and Hamas began but, despite reports of the crossing opening, they were either turned away or the route was hit by ongoing Israeli air raids.
An Egyptian government official told CNN that a total of 361 foreign passport-holders had now left Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media, said the passport-holders would go to Cairo, where some will catch flights back to their home countries.
The Australians’ exit follows a deal brokered by Qatar between Israel, Hamas and Egypt, in co-ordination with the US, to allow for the release of foreign nationals and critically injured civilians from Gaza.
Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Tim Watts told ABC News Breakfast the 23 people were being assisted by Australian officials.
“We’re incredibly relieved that overnight 23 individuals who had been registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including 20 Australians, were able to cross the border at Rafah,” he said.
“They were met by Australian consular officials who are on the ground there in Egypt, who are able to provide assistance with ongoing travel arrangements.”
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she spoke on Thursday to Australia’s ambassador in Egypt, who was with Australian children who had made the journey to Cairo.
“He said people seemed in good health and were relieved, but we are ensuring anyone who needs medical attention will receive it,” she said.
Wong also stressed the need for a humanitarian truce to allow essential supplies into The Strip.
“When Israel’s friends urge Israel to exercise restraint, when Israel’s friends urge Israel to protect civilian lives, it’s critical that Israel listens,” she said.
The Australians who were stuck in Gaza said they faced unimaginable circumstances in the middle of the conflict zone.
Khalid Elmobayed said his mother Hanaa and her family were rationing food and water while in Gaza, as Israel’s siege left 2.3 million people relying mostly on reserves.
The UN reported some locals had broken into warehouses searching for aid, as only a limited number of trucks had been approved to enter the enclave, which was not nearly enough to support the population.
Meanwhile, the Adelaide family, who did not want to be identified for safety reasons, earlier said they “survived death” when they narrowly avoided an airstrike that hit a location just 100m from them.
The family of four said they travelled to Gaza before Hamas’s attack on October 7 to visit their loved ones, who they had been separated from for 12 years.
The remaining citizens
Watts said the remaining 65 Australians still stuck in Gaza were being provided with consular assistance.
“We are continuing to push for them to be able to make that passage across the Rafah crossing as soon as possible,” he said.
“We know this is an incredibly distressing time for Australians in Gaza and their families, and we are providing all possible support we can, communicating through all available channels.”
Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the government was working with other countries to ensure the passage can open for stranded citizens to leave Gaza and for aid to come through.
“It’s very distressing that there are people still in there, so we’re continuing … to press for more people to be able to get through that crossing and to get to safety,” he told ABC Radio.
“We’re obviously monitoring that very closely, and doing whatever we can with our international partners to get more people out.”
– With CNN, AAP
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