A British man trying to leave the Gaza Strip with his family has told Sky News it is too dangerous for them to try to get to the border with Egypt, following two previous attempts.
It comes as a number of UK citizens have finally been allowed to depart the besieged territory, after weeks of uncertainty about whether or not people would make it through the Rafah crossing.
Dr Ibrahim Assalia and his family remain near Gaza City in the north, and are unwilling to risk the journey to the border.
Dr Assalia is close to the al Shifa hospital, with his wife and children, after travelling to the region a few months ago to help his father, who died on 22 October, access medical care for cancer in neighbouring Egypt or Jordan.
Speaking to Sky News, Dr Assalia said he attempted to head to the Rafah crossing before Israel’s ground incursion in Gaza, but was told to turn back.
“I went up on the advice of the Foreign Office. They said, ‘go to the Rafah crossing, your names will be there’,” he said.
“We went there, it was a long day at five in the morning, me and my family on the street, and then the Egyptians came over, said, ‘no, go back’.
“We went back at that time, as there was no decision or information about cutting the north from the south.”
Israel’s Defence Forces told people living in the north of the territory to head south, as it prepared for a ground operation following the deadly Hamas attack in Israel on 7 October. Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas using airstrikes and troops on the ground.
Dr Assalia added: “On the second time, the same thing. We took a taxi on the advice of the Foreign Office.
“We went again to the border to find it also closed – advisers made us feel like we should just leave it, like it’s not serious.”
“I am 10 minutes away from central Gaza, 25 minutes away from [the] Rafah crossing, but no one was expecting the Israeli tanks to block this main road. That’s the problem.”
‘I can’t take my family there’
However, he said he won’t take his family to the crossing for a third time, and told Sky News the decision was “very critical and very risky”.
He said he was told by a number of taxi drivers they would not take him, and heard of foreign nationals who had been hit by Israeli tanks that had cut off the road.
“I can’t take… my family and go there and, God forbid, be shelled or be killed by a tank or, I didn’t know – I would rather prefer to wait,” he said.
“The Foreign Office informed us that our names will be there on the border for seven days. If we don’t make it within seven days, the names will be deleted. And this is a very, very serious issue as well.”
Sky News has seen the messages sent to Dr Assalia and his family from the Foreign Office about how to cross the Rafah border.
He also told Sky News his window was shattered due to shelling 50 metres away from him, injuring his hand, adding his daughter’s skin was irritated, due to what he believes to be phosphorous.
Israel Defence Forces said it is “not aware” of the use of the substance, which is illegal.
He also said his wife had run out of medicine to control her epilepsy, and pharmacies do not have any left.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Omar Mokhallalati, whose brother is also stuck in the north of Gaza.
Speaking to Sky News, he said his brother, who is working as a surgeon in Gaza, along with his pregnant wife and their children, have been granted access to use the Rafah crossing and leave the enclave, but do not want to risk the journey.
“Anyone crossing from northern Gaza to southern Gaza will be bombed,” he said.
“So the British government is telling [his brother]… to go there and leave Gaza City… if they survive the first bombing and the Egyptians allow them, they might be allowed to travel.
“So and it’s very risky.”
He added: “But to to risk a life of two children, two daughters, one son, a pregnant woman is impossible – no, they are not going to risk their lives.”
Mr Mokhallalati also said the family are living in a hospital, and “any second, Israel could say the hospital has to be evacuated and they will be on the street facing the Israeli bombs.”
‘I was expecting Great Britain to have more power’
Dr Assalia claims it has taken three days to get British citizens out of Gaza since the crossing opened, after people from Jordan, Bulgaria, Romania and the US, and told Sky News “the Foreign Office should have done more to help us”.
“I was expecting Great Britain to have more power in terms of a relationship with Israel and the Egyptians and there be priority for nationals of the UK.”
Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla travelled to the Palestinian territory to visit family but were unable to return home after the latest conflict erupted last month.