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The Rafah border crossing has been opened to a select few in Gaza

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today, for the first time since October 7, people have been able to leave the Gaza Strip.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CREAKING)

SHAPIRO: That is the sound of the gate opening on the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. It is the only land crossing into and out of Gaza not controlled by Israel. Only a few hundred people were permitted to make that crossing today. NPR's Elissa Nadworny is with us from Tel Aviv covering the story. Hi, Elissa.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Who was in this first group of people who were able to leave Gaza today?

NADWORNY: So they included more than 70 critically wounded Palestinians, along with about 300 people with foreign passports, including dozens of aid workers, according to a list provided by Hamas. So that list included people with passports from Australia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Japan and Jordan, among others. Staff members from aid organizations including Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross were also allowed to leave. And our producer, Anas Baba, was there on the Gaza side this morning and talked with Jamila Muhaisen, who is 24 and has a Bulgarian passport. She just got her medical degree in Gaza, where she has family. She was on that list to cross today and told us that finally leaving was bittersweet.

JAMILA MUHAISEN: It's not the greatest feeling, to be honest. It's not. It's like I'm running away with my life, you know? OK, I lost a house, but I have family here. I have friends here. And it's not OK to just leave a burning city away, you know? It's - I'm not 100%, like, OK with it, but here I am doing it, you know?

SHAPIRO: Elissa, you mentioned people from Australia, Bulgaria, Jordan, Japan. What about people in Gaza with U.S. passports?

NADWORNY: Only a handful of Americans were able to leave today. They were aid workers. The State Department said they have been in contact with 400 Americans who, along with noncitizen family members, want to leave. President Biden said today that he expects more to leave in the coming days. Our producer in Gaza also talked with Wafaa Abu Zaida. She is an American citizen.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: If you're not going to go out today, are you going to, like, be devastated...

WAFAA ABU ZAIDA: No.

BABA: ...Broken heart?

ZAIDA: No, I'm already past the devastation and the disappointment and the whole - there is no word in the dictionary right now.

NADWORNY: She said she didn't want to miss her chance. That's why she was waiting at the border. Her sister-in-law was on that list today, though.

ZAIDA: Well, my sister-in-law, she's a Jordanian. So we're waiting if she goes, and I'll be happy if she arrives.

BABA: At least one of us.

ZAIDA: At least one of us, we want to save at least one. Please, God.

SHAPIRO: Wow. And besides those hundreds who cross today, there are tens of thousands more people who are hoping to leave who are waiting. What is their future look like?

NADWORNY: Yeah, a lot of those people came to the border on Wednesday morning, even though they weren't on that Hamas list. They had suitcases. There was a donkey cart with luggage piled high, many people carrying children hoping that they would get across. They were not allowed to get through if they were not on the list. You know, a big group missing from that list was people with Egyptian passports. And I'm mentioning this because the Rafah border is between Gaza and Egypt.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: You're hearing from a woman at the gate who is Egyptian, and she's saying, "open the door, open the door - it's enough what is happening to us."

SHAPIRO: You mentioned, Elissa, that some of the people who did leave today included aid workers. And so who is still there in Gaza helping?

NADWORNY: Well, it really depends on the organization. You know, the U.N. agency that's been operating in Gaza said the border opening allowed them to cycle out staff as part of a regular rotation. They have said - they repeat - they are still committed to staying in Gaza.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Elissa Nadworny reporting from Tel Aviv. Thank you.

NADWORNY: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.

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