Hamas blocks exit of foreign nationals, US says, as Israel insists rescuing hostages 'top priority' in ground operation

29 October 2023, 23:25 | Updated: 29 October 2023, 23:40

Direct clashes between Israel and Hamas have broken out for the first time since the October 7 attacks
Direct clashes between Israel and Hamas have broken out for the first time since the October 7 attacks. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Hamas is blocking the exit of foreign nationals from Gaza, the United States has said, as Israel's ground operation intensifies.

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It comes as the British government said it was working to rescue British nationals trapped in Gaza amid warnings from the United Nations that order in the besieged region is on the brink of collapse.

Egypt and Israel have said they are prepared to let foreign nationals leave the Gaza Strip, but Hamas has blocked their exit, according to the United States.

"The Egyptians are prepares to let Americans and other foreign nationals out of Gaza. The Israelis have no issue with that. But Hamas is preventing their departure and making a series of demands," the White House said.

Some 600 Americans and 200 British nationals are currently trapped in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government said rescuing hostages that were taken by Hamas on the day of the October 7 attacks is its "top priority".

Gal Hirsch, the Israeli government’s appointed envoy on hostages and missing persons, said: "There is no lock in negotiations that we don't try to break in order to get to the hostages and receive information."

A "tremendous intelligence and operational effort that history has not seen before" was under way to get them home, he added.

Direct clashes have broken out between Israel and Hamas
Direct clashes have broken out between Israel and Hamas. Picture: Getty

It comes as the conflict on the ground in Gaza intensifies, with direct clashes breaking out between Israeli soldiers and Hamas in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.

Israel's Defence Force (IDF) said it had killed members of Hamas near the Erez crossing, marking some of the first direct clashes between the two groups since Hamas' terrorist attack on October 7, The Times reports.

It is unclear how many members of Hamas were killed by Israeli soldiers.

The Erez crossing is a border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

It comes as Israel's ground offensive against Hamas intensifies, after more soldiers moved into Gaza overnight into Sunday.

Ali Miraj says ceasefire is 'not realistic' at this time

A spokesperson for the army said on Sunday: "Overnight we increased the entry of IDF forces into the Strip, and they joined the forces already fighting there.

"We're gradually expanding the ground activities and the extent of our forces in the Gaza Strip.

"The ground operation is complex and involves risks for our forces too.

"We will do everything in our power - from the air, sea and ground - to ensure the safety of our forces and to achieve the war's objectives."

Read More: Israel pushes more troops into Gaza as Hamas war 'expands', amid 'civil order breakdown as aid warehouse broken into'

Read More: 'This will be a long war': Israel sends elite troops into Gaza as Netanyahu declares 'second war of independence'

Meanwhile, Israel has told the Al-Quds hospital to evacuate, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, which is based in Gaza.

Patients in intensive care units and babies in incubators would be impossible to move, the organisation has warned.

The hospital's surrounding area has been subject to bombardment throughout Sunday, with around 14,000 civilians sheltering in Al-Quds hospital.

Israel's campaign against Hamas in Gaza has intensified
Israel's campaign against Hamas in Gaza has intensified. Picture: Getty

It comes after the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a 'second war of independence' as he vowed to wipe out Hamas.

Israel has been carrying out a retaliatory bombardment campaign in Gaza since Hamas' terrorist attack on October 7, in which more than 1,400 Israelis were killed.

Addressing his country on Saturday evening, Mr Netanyahu said that the war against Hamas had "entered a new stage", as he confirmed soldiers on the ground in Gaza have "very clear objectives".

Mr Netanyahu also warned that the war against Hamas was going to be a "long one"."We will win. We will prevail," he said.

"We will fight and we will not surrender. We will not withdraw. Overground and underground."

The Israeli Prime Minister reiterated that he was doing everything he could to ensure the safe return of hostages being held captive by Hamas.

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