Evacuating Americans from Gaza amid Israel’s war with Hamas has been more difficult than most recent civilian rescue missions, according to a special operations veteran who is helping stranded U.S. citizens leave the area.
“Frankly, we’ve had an easier time getting people out of Afghanistan than out of Gaza,” said Alex Plitsas, a board member of the Special Operations Association of America.
The D.C.-based veterans group is working to help Americans flee the Middle East, including a Massachusetts family that was able to flee Gaza on Thursday.
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a Senate committee this week that about 1,000 Americans and their family members remained trapped in Gaza and were asking to leave. Israel-Hamas war rages on. The State Department confirmed that a total of 79 American citizens and their family members had left Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt on Wednesday and Thursday.
Evacuating civilians has been difficult since Hamas launched its October 7 attack on Israel. State Department officials in October accused Hamas of disrupting the departure of foreign nationals from the Gaza Strip. But a lawyer for a missing family said a senior State Department official told him in an email that the failure to secure diplomatic agreements between Israel, Egypt and the terrorist group was to blame.
“You have Egypt, you have Hamas and you have Israel talking about the gate,” Plitsas said. “I think Hamas wants things in return for opening the gate, and so does Egypt. So everyone has their own wants and desires related to the ability to get people out of there because they know that Western states want to come out citizens.”
VETERAN TO AID AMERICANS STRUCK IN GAZA:
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“I certainly don’t envy our government negotiators. They did a fantastic job and they had a very, very difficult task ahead of them,” Plitsas added.
SOAA has assisted in the evacuation of US citizens in both Afghanistan and Ukraine.
In Afghanistan, Plitsas said rescue organizations only had to deal with the Taliban and that Taliban members in 2021 were trying to win the “good will” of Western nations by reopening Kabul airport and allowing civilians to leave.
“Whereas in Gaza, because of the security situation, it is completely blocked,” he said. SOAA volunteers they are not allowed to enter Gaza and have been able to help the Americans only from a distance and once they cross the border. “This was a self-evacuation. They had to get to the gate on multiple occasions.”
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As more Americans have been able to leave Gaza, Plitsas said the volunteers are feeling optimistic but keeping their eyes on the long term.
“I don’t think everyone is going to feel great until all the civilians are removed from the battlefield and frankly, until the conflict is resolved and the situation returns to normal,” he said.
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“The situation is still precarious and it is a regional powder keg,” he added.
To learn more from Plitsa, click here.
Ramiro Vargas contributed the accompanying video.