A Medway family remains stuck in Gaza Wednesday as airstrikes continue to hit buildings near where they are staying and a bloody war between Hamas and Israel rages on nearly two weeks after a horrific terrorist attack.
An attorney for the family, Sammy Nabulsi of Rose Law Partners, said attempts to cross the Gaza-Egypt border over the weekend were unsuccessful even after the U.S. State Department told Abood Okal and Wafaa Abuzayda a crossing would open for United States citizens at 10 a.m. local time Saturday.
Okal said he is “stranded” in Gaza with his wife and one-year-old son, Yousef. The family traveled to the area for a two-week trip to visit Abuzayda’s parents, Nabulsi previously told the Herald.
“We’ve been trying to stay strong, but it hasn’t been easy. Airstrikes have intensified the last few days, and especially last night. It’s become constant all night and most of the day, My son was not able to sleep, Yousef, not until one o’clock in the morning and then he was up again by five o’clock in the morning,” Okal said in an audio message recorded Wednesday and shared with the Herald.
Okal, Abuzayda, and their son are staying 10 minutes away from the Rafah Crossing, a checkpoint between Egypt and Gaza where aid trucks have entered in the past week to deliver crucial supplies.
But United States citizens trapped in the country have not managed to escape as Israel prepares to launch an expected ground invasion. The war started more than two weeks ago in response to a surprise terrorist attack by Hamas in Israel.
United States officials have estimated 500 to 600 Americans are in Gaza without a way to exit.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said David Satterfield, recently appointed envoy for humanitarian issues in the Mideast, was in Israel Tuesday engaged in negotiations with Israel, Egypt and the United Nations to get Rafah to open for U.S. citizens, other dual nationals, and employees of international organizations.
Miller blamed Hamas Monday for delays U.S. citizens are encountering in their attempt to escape Gaza.
“We do believe that Egypt is ready to process American citizens if they can make it to Egyptian authorities,” he told reporters. “Hamas just has to stop blocking their exit.”
Okal said airstrikes are becoming more frequent, intense, and closer to where they are staying in Southern Gaza, which Israeli previously declared a “safe zone” after warning residents in the north to evacuate.
One airstrike hit Wednesday roughly 900 feet away from the home Okal, Abuzayda, and their son were staying, Nabulsi said.
“All it takes is one missile, one airstrike to miss its target or be too close to where you are, and that has happened before where we’re staying, and that would be it,” Okal said in the audio message. “And time of an essence, time is of an essence as well because of the ground invasion, which is supposed to happen any minute now. And we cannot even think of the destruction that would bring upon us.”
The family, Okal said, ran out of milk for their one-year-old.
“We opened the last box and basically tonight, we would be completely out. It would be his first night ever, in his entire life, to go to sleep without having milk. So we’re hopeful that that will not be too bad of a night,” he said.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry said Wednesday that at least 6,546 Palestinians have been killed and 17,439 others wounded. In the occupied West Bank, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed and 1,650 wounded in violence and Israeli raids since Oct. 7.
The Health Ministry said airstrikes killed more than 750 people over the past 24 hours, without saying how many were militants. Death tolls from Hamas could not be immediately verified, which the group says it collects from hospital directors.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, according to Israeli officials, mostly civilians who died in the initial Hamas rampage. Israel’s military on Wednesday raised the number of remaining hostages in Gaza to 222 people, including foreigners believed captured by Hamas during the incursion. Four hostages have been released.
Materials from the Associated Press were used in this report.
Smoke billows after an airstrike in a picture provided by a lawyer representing a Medway family stuck in Gaza. The airstrike, the lawyer said, hit Wednesday roughly 900 feet from where the family is sheltering. (Courtesy of Sammy Nabulsi)