In a press interaction, ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Selina Wang questioned John Kirby about the challenges, other than Hamas, that were hindering the evacuation of Americans and other civilians from Gaza. Wang sought to understand the broader context beyond blaming Hamas for the difficulties faced.
Kirby, however, firmly maintained that Hamas was the sole impediment in this situation. He emphasized that the blockade and obstacles placed by Hamas were the primary reasons hindering the evacuation efforts. Kirby reinforced his stance by referencing Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statements in a Senate hearing, where Blinken pointed out that Hamas was the key barrier to facilitating safe passage for those trapped in Gaza.
Initially, Hamas stipulated that they would permit foreign nationals to leave Gaza on the condition that a certain number of injured Palestinians would also be allowed to exit. However, upon scrutiny of the provided list of wounded Palestinians, it was discovered that approximately one-third were Hamas fighters. This condition was unacceptable to Egypt, Israel, and the United States.
Subsequently, a resolution was reached where only non-combatant Palestinian civilians, who were casualties of the conflict, could leave Gaza alongside foreign nationals. This arrangement excluded Hamas fighters. The civilians who were permitted to leave were understandably relieved to escape the dire situation in Gaza.
Furthermore, the Rafah Crossing, historically not a major exit point for large numbers of civilians, presented additional complications. There were concerns stemming from past incidents, notably in 2008, when Hamas breached the Rafah Crossing, leading to a massive influx of Gazans into Egypt. This historical context added to the complexity of the situation at the Rafah Crossing during this crisis.
During the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Blinken elaborated on the difficulties faced in evacuating approximately 400 Americans and their families, totaling about 1,000 people, plus an additional 5,000 civilians from other countries.
He attributed the delay to Hamas’s refusal to open gates and allow safe passage. Blinken noted that despite efforts to work with various intermediaries, including Egypt and Israel, the control exerted by Hamas over Gaza made it extremely challenging to secure a safe exit route for those stranded.