Wounded and sick children leave besieged Gaza Strip, in first medical evacuation for weeks

Dozens of sick and injured children, including 20 cancer patients, have been evacuated from Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the first to leave since Israel launched its offensive in Rafah last month.

The 68 were transferred to Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday, Israeli authorities say. COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for approving aid into Gaza, coordinated the passage along with the Israeli military, the US, Egypt and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The news provided a moment of relief for the parents, whose children who had been unable to access lifesaving care after more than eight months of Israeli bombardment in Gaza.

“She is suffering and moving between hospitals receiving blood treatments… Every day she feels more pain than the day before,” said her mother Umm Ubaida. “She is extremely tired. She can’t wait any longer.”

The evacuations come with the southern Rafah crossing, a key transit point, still closed despite negotiations on its re-opening.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the evacuation on Friday. He appealed for increased medical passage “via all possible routes including Rafah and Karem Shalom, to Egypt, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and from there to other countries when needed.”

But as Israel’s siege persists – and the risk of famine grows – Palestinian officials have warned that the operation was “a drop in the ocean” compared to hundreds more severely ill children who are still trapped in the ravaged enclave.

More than 25,000 sick people require urgent treatment abroad, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. Among those are 980 children with cancer – including 250 patients who could face “certain death” – the ministry reported on Friday. Israel’s military campaign has depleted the medical system and drained food supplies.

Israel insists there is “no limit” on the amount of aid that can enter Gaza, but human rights agencies warn that its rigid inspection regime on trucks, sustained restrictions on land crossings and relentless bombing campaign means relief is barely dripping in.

Israel launched its military offensive in Gaza after the Hamas-led October 7 attacks on southern Israel, in which at least 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 others were abducted.

Israeli attacks in Gaza have since killed 37,718 Palestinians and injured another 86,377 people, according to Gaza health officials.

‘I was not allowed to leave with them’

Even before the war, chronically ill patients in Gaza faced numerous hurdles when trying to access medical treatment abroad – having lived through years of partial blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

“I submitted a request to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital to travel with them. They said you cannot travel because you are less than 60 years old.”

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