As people waited at the Rafah crossing on Thursday, awaiting the second day of evacuation from Gaza to Egypt, the sound of an airstrike shook the crowd and a piece of shrapnel was seen falling in the area.
The explosion was just another sign that for many, the journey to safety was one of the most dangerous ventures they had undertaken in Gaza.
“Getting to the Rafah crossing was the most dangerous journey in my entire life,” Ala Al Husseini, 61, an Austrian citizen who was evacuated on Wednesday, wrote in a text message from the bus that took him from Rafah in Cairo.
Reached by phone Thursday after arriving in Cairo, he said he could not find taxis or people to drive him to the border because of a lack of fuel in the Gaza Strip and because phones were not working. He eventually found a ride, but he and the driver were terrified as they drove from central Gaza through the enclave’s empty streets.
Mr Al Husseini said he feared simply being next to a place Israel considered a Hamas target could kill him. “You could be collateral damage at any time,” he said. “I was scared to death.”
Gaza’s border crossing authority released the names of about 600 more foreign nationals it said would be allowed to leave the Rafah crossing on Thursday. The list included 400 Americans as well as people from Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Switzerland.
Hisham Adwan, spokesman for the Rafah crossing in Gaza, said more than 340 foreign nationals traveled through the crossing on Thursday, along with 21 wounded and 21 others accompanying them. In addition, 45 humanitarian aid trucks had passed through the enclave, he said.
The number of people passing through was similar to the previous day, when 361 foreign nationals entered Egypt and ambulances took 45 seriously injured Palestinians, along with some of their family members, to Egyptian hospitals, according to Al Qahera, an Egyptian state-run TV channel.
Photos from Gaza on Thursday showed scores of people waiting at the crossing, and Egyptian television showed people pushing luggage carts to the other side of the checkpoint.
Mr Al Husseini said the scene at the border was chaotic. Officers were processing names by hand, he said, and people who weren’t among the few hundred people allowed out were among the crowds, some trying to leave.
Family members of those who could evacuate were sometimes barred from leaving because they lacked foreign citizenship or the necessary documents, forcing people into difficult decisions.
Adala Abu Middain, a Palestinian with Egyptian citizenship, went to the crossing Thursday with her sister, Dalal, and Dalal’s 6-year-old daughter, Maha, who both have American citizenship, she said. But she said when they got to the crossing they were told the niece couldn’t leave.
“We only want one thing: Help us leave Gaza,” Ms Abu Middain said.
It was unclear what the suspension was, and the US embassy in Cairo did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, said Wednesday that about 400 Americans in Gaza have expressed a desire to leave, but that the government will also help their family members who wish to leave, totaling about 1,000 people. However, some names were not on the list on Thursday.
Mkhaimar Abu Sada, 58, an associate professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, was accompanying his two sons, both in their 20s, to the Rafah crossing on Thursday. He said they had American citizenship, but that he was not allowed to leave because he only has an American green card. His wife and three other children are not American and will also be left behind.
He hopes that eventually they will all be able to get out. “The situation is beyond catastrophic and beyond imagination,” he said. “The death, the bombings, the bloodshed.”
Lena Beseiso, 57, an American who had repeatedly come to the crossing only to find it closed, was finally traveling Thursday with her family. But her feelings were bittersweet.
“It’s so sad that we have to leave all these innocent people behind,” he said in a voice memo.
She is Abuheweila, Vivian Y and Anna Betts contributed to the report.