Gaza was plunged into another communications blackout Wednesday, with internet and phone service cut for several hours as Israeli troops battled Hamas militants. Meanwhile, dozens of foreign passport holders crowded into a border crossing ahead of what could be the first such departure from the besieged Palestinian enclave.
Communications began to be restored after Gaza's second such blackout in recent days, but aid agencies warned that the disruptions severely hamper their work in an already dire situation. Deadly airstrikes — including one that leveled apartment buildings in a refugee camp near Gaza City — have forced many to flee their homes and basic supplies are running low.
New strikes hit apartment blocks in the Jabaliya camp for a second day in a row Wednesday, according to the Hamas-run government, which said many were killed or wounded, though the toll was not immediately known. Al-Jazeera television, which is still reporting from northern Gaza, aired footage of devastation and of several wounded people, including children, being brought to a nearby hospital.
Despite the deteriorating circumstances, no one has been allowed to leave Gaza, except for four hostages released by Hamas, since Israel declared a total siege in the wake of the militants' bloody Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel.
But an agreement appeared to have been reached Wednesday. The Palestinian crossing authority said more than 400 foreign passport holders would be permitted to leave for Egypt, as would some wounded people. 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.
Dozens of people could be seen entering the Rafah crossing — the only one currently operating — and ambulances carrying wounded Palestinians exited on the Egyptian side. More than 80 Palestinians — out of many thousands wounded in the war — will be brought in for treatment, Egypt's Health Ministry said, and a field hospital has been set up in an Egyptian town near the crossing.
But as a few hundred prepared to leave, the rest of of Gaza's 2.3 million people found themselves cut off from the world — and each other — once again.
The Palestinian telecoms company Paltel said internet and mobile phone services were gradually being restored in Gaza following a "complete disruption." Communications had earlier gone down over the weekend as Israeli troops pushed into Gaza in larger numbers.
Internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org attributed both disruptions to "measures imposed by Israel." Alp Toker, the director the group, said "service remains significantly below pre-war levels."
The International Committee of the Red Cross said communication blackouts make it harder for civilians to seek safety. "Even the potentially life-saving act of calling an ambulance becomes impossible," said Jessica Moussan, an ICRC spokesperson.
More than 8,500 Palestinians have been killed in the war, mostly women and minors, and more than 21,000 people have been wounded, the Gaza Health Ministry said Tuesday, without providing a breakdown between civilians and fighters. The figure is without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas' initial attack, also an unprecedented figure. Palestinian militants also abducted around 240 people during their incursion and have continued firing rockets into Israel.
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