RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Israeli ground troops have advanced to “the gates of Gaza City” in heavy fighting with militants, the military said Wednesday, as hundreds of foreign nationals and dozens of seriously injured Palestinians were allowed to leave Gaza after more than three weeks under siege.
The first people to leave Gaza — other than four hostages released by Hamas and another rescued by Israeli forces — crossed into Egypt, escaping the territory’s growing misery as bombings drive hundreds of thousands from their homes, and food, water and fuel run low.
The U.S. State Department said some American citizens were among those who left, without giving specifics. It said it expected more Americans and other foreign nationals to get out of Gaza in coming days. Talks were reportedly ongoing among Egypt, Israel and Qatar, which has been mediating with Hamas.
Heavy airstrikes demolished apartment buildings for the second day in a row in the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City. Al Jazeera television showed wounded people, including children, being brought to a hospital.
By midafternoon Wednesday, 335 foreign passport holders left Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt, according to Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority.
Seventy-six Palestinian patients, along with their companions, have been evacuated for treatment in Egypt, Abu Omar said.
The authority said the plan was for more than 400 foreign passport holders to leave for Egypt. The White House said it expected a “handful” of American citizens to be among them, and German, French and British officials said their citizens were among the evacuees.
Hundreds more remain in Gaza. The U.S. has said it is trying to evacuate 400 Americans with their families.
Egypt has said it will not accept an influx of Palestinian refugees because of fears Israel will not allow them to return to Gaza after the war.