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WASHINGTON – As the death count grows in the Israel-Hamas war, international aid agencies say they are shrinking operations in the Gaza Strip because they’re running out of supplies.
Some of the families most in need of aid are American citizens.
Among the innocent civilians in Gaza are an estimated 500 to 600 Palestinian Americans. While trickles of humanitarian aid have been distributed foreign nationals can’t leave. Law experts are monitoring a situation that humanitarian law should be guiding.
“Today is day 19 of the war and we’re still in Rafah,” he said in an audio diary he sent via phone to his friend and lawyer, Sammy Nabulsi. Nabulsi shared the recordings with CBN News. “We’ve been trying to stay strong, but it hasn’t been easy. Air strikes have been intensifying. My son was not able to sleep until one o’clock in the morning.”
Okal, 36, never thought visiting family in Gaza earlier this month would leave him stranded in a war with his wife Wafaa, and their one-year-old son Yousef.
Desperately trying to get back home to Massachusetts, they’re huddling in a home with ten Americans near the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. Their family lawyer says the U.S. State Department hasn’t done enough.
“We are all so frustrated with the U.S. State Department,” Nabulsi said. “We’re able to get communications with them. There’s still no confirmed departure option for a single American citizen in Gaza.”
For American families trapped in Gaza, the lack of aid is becoming increasingly dire. The Okals weaned their one-year-old off milk because there is none.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told CBN News. There is no higher priority than the safety of U.S. citizens abroad and says they’re working “tirelessly” to secure safe departure.
“We continue to work urgently in partnership with Egypt and Israel to facilitate the ability of U.S. citizens and their immediate family members to exit Gaza safely and travel via Egypt to their final destinations,” the State Department’s statement continues.
“There is no higher priority than the safety of U.S. citizens abroad, and U.S. Embassy Cairo teams are poised to assist these U.S. citizens. We are working tirelessly, including with partner and allied nations with citizens in Gaza, to secure their ability to safely depart the conflict area. We are in communication with U.S. citizens requesting assistance departing Gaza,” the statement concluded.
“If Rafah gate is open to allow humanitarian aid to go in, we will be trying to get out the American citizens who are in Gaza who want to leave,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
Legal experts in humanitarian aid say there are laws that govern how to keep innocents safe.
“There are actual rules and laws that deal with how war is conducted,” said Jeffrey Brauch, executive director of the Center for Global Justice at Regent University School of Law. “The main reason for that is that we’re trying to protect people who are sort of innocently caught in the middle of wartime. We’re seeing in real-time actions and people are making evaluations about whether war crimes are being committed or even prospectively.
A major part of that law is contained in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 the Red Cross says is adopted by all nations in the world. Forbidden is the destruction of food, water, and other materials needed for survival.
In diplomatic breakthroughs, aid from Egypt is entering Gaza over the last few days where the population of 2.3 million has been running out of food, water, and medicine since Israel sealed the territory after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas terrorists.
Israel was cautious about delivering aid for fears it would end up in the hands of Hamas and remains cautious about delivering aid citing examples of Hamas stealing humanitarian aid in the past.
In a social post on ‘X,’ President Joe Biden seemed to highlight the aid law, echoing U.S. support for Israel’s defense, while “operating consistent with the law of war.”
The Okal family now has one more life they’re watching over, a cat little Yousef found named Milka, taking some comfort during the chaos.
A foreign affairs officer was assigned to this family and is monitoring their safety, their lawyer said. He adds his clients want the State Department to know how establishing a safe zone over Rafah would ensure the safety of even more lives.
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