Dozens of Ukrainians have been evacuated from the Gaza Strip, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as Israel remains vague over reports of pauses in fighting.
The US claimed yesterday that Israel has agreed to pause fighting in Gaza for four hours each day to allow civilians safe escape, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only described “a few hours here, a few hours there”.
Among those trying to flee the bombarded Palestinian enclave are Ukrainians, including Tatyana Tapalova, who fears returning to Ukraine with her young child.
“I don’t want to go from one war to another,” she said, as she waited at the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza with her Ukrainian passport in hand.
A total of 89 Ukrainians have been evacuated, Mr Zelenskyy said, since the evacuation process began on Wednesday for his compatriots.
They are now in Egypt, he said, adding efforts to evacuate any remaining Ukrainian nationals from the strip are ongoing.
“It is very important that as many civilians as possible are protected and that the war that is going on in the Middle East does not lead to a full-scale collapse of international stability,” he said.
“Everyone needs security and peace. We continue this work. A very painstaking and delicate process.”
Russia is continuing its onslaught of Ukraine, with particular focus currently on the key eastern town of Avdiivka, where shelling is “round the clock”.
Drone attacks have been reported across the country, including over Kyiv, which gives Ukrainians in Gaza a potentially deadly dilemma.
A senior US official said on Thursday the number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip is “very possibly” higher than the 10,000 reported by the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.
Despite near-constant shelling, Israel says it is encouraging civilians to flee to the south, where bombing has also been reported.
But it isn’t clear what arrangement – if any – has actually been agreed by Israel for temporary pauses in fighting.
When questioned by Fox News on the matter, Mr Netanyahu said “the fighting continues against the Hamas enemy”.
“But in specific locations for a given period – a few hours here, a few hours there – we want to facilitate a safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fighting,” he added.
Israel has already opened the Salah al Din road as a “humanitarian corridor” on several days this week, to allow Gazan citizens to flee south, but it is unclear whether the pauses would take place on a wider scale across a bigger area.
The White House and President Biden indicated the daily four-hour pauses would take place in areas of northern Gaza, but Mr Netanyahu did not confirm this.
The Israeli PM also said there was no timetable for the war, only that it would end after Hamas is defeated.
He added that though Israel had no intention of occupying or governing Gaza, it did envision a radically reshaped territory and wider region.
“We don’t want to seek to govern Gaza, we don’t seek to occupy, but we seek to give it and us a better future in the entire Middle East,” he said.