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South-East, Central European States Struggle to Evacuate Citizens from Gaza

As the Israeli military operation continues in the Gaza Strip, hundreds of citizens of south-eastern and central European states haven’t yet been evacuated, while several remain hostages of Hamas.

Several hundred citizens of south-eastern and central European states remain stranded in the Gaza Strip, although some countries have managed to evacuate their nationals as the Israeli armed forces continue their military operation.

Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary and other states have managed to get people out. But significant numbers of nationals from Bosnia, Moldova, Turkey and Poland are still in Gaza. A few citizens of south-eastern and central European states are being held hostage by Hamas.

Foreign diplomats in Cairo and Ramallah in the West Bank have been trying to evacuate their citizens through the Rafah crossing point in the south of the Gaza Strip into Egypt, which remains the only way out for civilians who want to flee the ongoing violence.

However, the Egyptian authorities fear that opening the borders to all Palestinian refugees would create a humanitarian crisis.

Efforts by diplomats to secure at least a temporary cessation of hostilities to allow aid to reach the Palestinians remaining in Gaza and the evacuation of citizens of various nationalities have so far been unsuccessful. The authorities in Tel Aviv oppose any suspension of fighting for fear that Hamas could regroup.

Romania announced on Tuesday that 103 Romanian citizens and their families crossed the border from the Gaza Strip at Rafah and arrived in Egypt. 

The Romanians will be taken to Cairo, from where they will be transported on a special flight to Bucharest, said the Foreign Ministry.

“The diplomatic missions in Cairo and Tel Aviv continue to have dialogue with the Egyptian and Israeli authorities to complete the evacuation operations for the other Romanian citizens and their family members,” states the ministry.

Croatia evacuated most of its dozens of citizens from the Gaza Strip at the weekend.  

The first group of 22 evacuated Croatian citizens, which consisted of families with children, arrived at Zagreb airport on November 4. On the morning of November 5, another group of six Croatian citizens evacuated from Gaza arrived.

Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman said on November 4 that there is information that a Croatian citizen has died in Gaza, but that this has not been confirmed.

Bulgaria evacuated 30 citizens, along with non-Bulgarian family members, on November 4. They arrived in Sofia on a flight from Cairo. “We were full of sorrow, waiting for our death there,” one evacuee told local media. According to Deputy Prime Minister Maria Gabriel, six more citizens, along with non-Bulgarian family members, preferred to remain in Cairo. 

Montenegro has no Montenegrin citizens in the Gaza Strip, according to the Foreign Ministry, and there has been no request to authorities for evacuation.

The Foreign Ministry in Serbia did not respond to BIRN by the time of publication about whether any of its nationals are stranded in Gaza. The Israeli embassy in Belgrade and family members confirmed that one Serbian national, Alon Ohel, was taken hostage by Hamas during its initial attack on Israel.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is making efforts to help 54 Bosnian citizens who are awaiting evacuation from the Gaza Strip, according to the Foreign Ministry.

According to the Bosnian ambassador to Cario, Sabit Subasic, 29 have already been listed and approved for evacuation by the Egyptian authorities. However, none of them have managed to get out of Gaza, as the process of crossing at Rafah is extremely slow.

North Macedonia reported last week that three of its citizens who were stuck in Gaza, a father with two children, along with their Palestinian mother, were evacuated through the Rafah crossing and would be returning to Skopje.

That leaves two more North Macedonia nationals stuck in Gaza – a married couple who have also asked for assistance. North Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry said it is working on their evacuation as well and that they should be able to leave as soon as safety conditions are met.

Moldova has received 51 evacuation requests from Moldovan citizens in Gaza. None have been evacuated so far, but a Moldovan consul has been sent to Rafah to coordinate the evacuation, Igor Zaharov, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Chisinau, told BIRN. 

“A total of 51 people, citizens of Moldova, were registered for evacuation. How many will cross? We shall know once they cross the border and they’re on the bus waiting with our consul,” Zaharov said. 

Moldova, Romania and Ukraine are coordinating their efforts to evacuate their citizens from Gaza. Among the 103 citizens evacuated by Romania, there might also be some who have dual Romanian-Moldovan citizenship.

Turkey has announced that there are more than 300 Turkish citizens stranded in Gaza. Thirty people have already left, according to Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan.

“We’re working so there will be Turkish citizens [among the foreigners leaving Gaza]. The identity of our citizens in Gaza is known,” Fidan said on November 1.

Since this statement, there has beenno official announcement about whether any Turkish citizens left Gaza via the Rafah crossing point.

Poland announced last Friday that there are now 30 Polish citizens stuck in Gaza. The Polish authorities have so far been unable to get them out of the conflict zone.

There is officially one Polish citizen among the people kidnapped by Hamas, but the number could be higher. 

Hungary currently has seven Hungarian citizens – all members of one family – stranded in Gaza. The government managed to get eight people – two families – out during the past week. 

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, there are daily contacts with the Hungarians in Gaza, but prospects of bringing them out are bleak for now. 

They were not willing to join others who travelled to the Egyptian border to leave Gaza, reports say.

On top of the potential evacuees, there are five hostages with dual Hungarian citizenship held by Hamas. The government in Budapest has asked Qatar to help release them.

Source : Balkan Insight