Hamas stranding 1,000 Americans and family members in Gaza: Blinken

State Department has told families they could leave multiple times, only to find border-crossing closed

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 31 October 2023 22:19 GMT
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Blinken was forced to stop speaking several times as protesters were removed by police

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has offered some of the first in-depth remarks about the fate of hundreds of Americans stranded in Gaza by the Israel-Hamas war.

During testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of the White House’s request for $14bn in additional military aid to Israel, Mr Blinken said nearly 1,000 people with ties to the US, comprising American citizens and their family members, are still trapped in the bombarded Palestinian territory.

“We are working on every single day,” he testified on Tuesday, saying the State Department has sent 5500 communications including phone calls and WhatsApp messages to Americans stuck behind the siege line.

“I’m focused on this intensely,” he added. “My entire department is as well, both in the region and here, we are working with various parties to try to facilitate their departure from Gaza.”

The secretary said Hamas, the militant group and political party which rules the Gaza strip, is responsible for the delay in getting Americans out. Israeli-Americans have been able to depart on emergency flights and a charter boat.

“The impediment is simple: it’s Hamas,” Mr Blinken continued. “We have not yet found a way to get them out through whatever place by whatever means that Hamas is not blocking.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken pauses as his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee to aid to Israel and Ukraine is overwhelmed by shouts from protesters in the audience, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken pauses as his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee to aid to Israel and Ukraine is overwhelmed by shouts from protesters in the audience, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. (AP)

During the hearing, where the top diplomat was repeatedly interrupted by anti-war protesters calling for a ceasefire, Senator Jeff Merkley grilled Mr Blinken about why a family in his state had been told repeatedly they would be able to leave, only to find a locked gate at the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.

They relayed to me how three times they had gotten a text message, an email saying drop everything and go to the Rafah crossing,” Mr Merkley said. “They waited until dark each time, but nothing happened. They weren’t interfered with by Hamas, just the gate never opened.”

And he added: “Why can’t we get them out that gate?”

The secretary insisted the problem was Hamas.

“To date the impediment has been Hamas,” he said. “I regret very much that we have had occasions where we thought that we would be able to move forward...only to find that the necessary procedure that had to be put in place to actually make that work couldn’t go forward.”

As The Independent has reported, Palestinian-Americans in and outside of Gaza feel they were “abandoned” and forgotten about because of their largely Muslim background.

“I am an American citizen,” Boston-based lawyer Sammy Nabulso, who represents the family of Abood Okal, Wafaa Abuzayda, and their one-year-old son Yousef, told The Independent earlier this month.

“I hope to God that the reason we’ve just completely abandoned them is not related to the colour of their skin, the people they’re connected to or the religion they practice...Frankly, the contrast in the treatment between American citizens versus American citizens is night and day.”

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