Medway family desperately awaiting Gaza escape route after Biden announces aid deal

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A lawyer for a family of American citizens from Medway trapped in Gaza near a crossing with Egypt said they are still desperately awaiting word on whether they can escape the gruesome warzone even as airstrikes pounded buildings Thursday morning near where they were staying.

Attorney Sammy Nabulsi, who represents Abood Okal, Wafaa Abuzayda, and their 1-year-old son, Yousef, said the family is stranded near the Rafah Crossing, a border checkpoint in Southern Gaza with Egypt, and is running out of food and water. The family traveled to Gaza for a two-week trip to visit Abuzayda’s parents, Nabulsi said.

Airstrikes have hit the area in recent days, Nabulsi said, including one Thursday that struck buildings just over 100 yards from where the family is sheltering. In a message sent on WhatsApp, Okal told Nabulsi that “windows shattered and walls cracked.”

“My son was sleeping under a window. (Wafaa) had to snatch him out in fear of glass falling on him,” Okal said in a message sent to Nabulsi just after 7 a.m. Thursday that was shared with the Herald. “We’re ok, kids are crying so trying to calm them down. About 100 meters away. Close enough the walls of the house cracked.”

An image of the airstrike’s aftermath shows a plum of gray smoke rising over a mass of buildings near the City of Rafah, Gaza. Nabulsi said this is the closest the family has been to an airstrike after Okal witnessed one Tuesday while traveling to a nearby town to find milk for his son.

“What’s become clear is even Southern Gaza and the town of Rafah, which is where they are currently located hoping and waiting to cross into Egypt, is also unsafe,” said Nabulsi, a Boston-based lawyer with Rose Law Partners. “I’m particularly worried about airstrikes in the south because that’s presumably where all the other American citizens who wish to exit Gaza into Egypt are currently located.”

United States officials estimate 500 to 600 American citizens are trapped in Gaza without a way to exit as the number of deaths from a war with Israel continues to rage less than two weeks after Hamas militants stormed into Israel and killed civilians in a brutal terrorist attack.

Israeli airstrikes continued Thursday across the entirety of Gaza, including in the south where Israel declared “safe zones.” More than 1 million Palestinians, roughly half of Gaza’s population, have fled homes in the north and Gaza City after Israel told residents to evacuate the north in advance of an expected ground assault.

The death toll is mounting on both sides.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said Thursday that nearly 3,800 Palestinians have been killed and more than 12,500 were wounded. More than 1,400 people in Israel were dead, most from the initial attack by Hamas, and hundreds were taken hostage.

Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and the European Union.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Wednesday that limited humanitarian aid could flow into Gaza from Egypt following a request from President Joe Biden. But it is unclear if any U.S. citizens will be able to flee Gaza through the Rafah Crossing, where United Nations flags are expected to be raised to protect trucks carrying aid supplies.

Nabulsi said the Medway family received messages Wednesday that the border between Gaza and Egypt would open for Americans to flee.

But only a few hours later, Nabulsi said he heard from U.S. officials that the limited aid deal “does not include any provision for the confirmed and safe departure of any American citizen in Gaza.”

“I asked myself this question like what on earth can I do next? Because I’m just getting to the point where I feel like I’m sitting here banging my head on a table saying like, these people are about to die and no one seems to do anything about it,” Nabulsi said in an interview.

Nabusli said he has been in touch with the U.S. Department of State, White House, and the offices of U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss, Seth Moutlon, and Jim McGovern.

The family is a constituent of McGovern so any case work would fall to his office. A spokesperson for McGovern did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Markey, Warren, and New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen penned a Tuesday letter to the White House and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging federal officials “to do everything possible to provide assistance to U.S. citizens fleeing the Gaza Strip, including our constituents from New England.”

“We are also concerned that our offices have received requests from multiple families from New England who are seeking assistance. These families are terrified for their lives and growing more frustrated as promises of escape through the opening of the Rafah Crossing remain unfulfilled,” the trio wrote, specifically pointing to the Medway family.

Nabulsi said he also wants to see more involvement from Gov. Maura Healey as the state’s federal delegation continues to push the White House and State Department for help.

“That advocacy needs to include her,” he said. “Everybody at every level of government needs to put their pencils down, and they should be doing nothing other than focusing on bringing all of these American citizens home safely, immediately.”

At an unrelated press conference Thursday, Healey said she was aware of the Medway family’s situation, calling it “heartbreaking.”

“I know that our senators have already been in touch with the State Department. There’s been a considerable amount of advocacy on their behalf, but it is a heartbreaking situation for them, for so many,” Healey told reporters.

Materials from the Associated Press were used in this report.

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