May 25, 2024

Nearly 70 children were evacuated from an orphanage in the southern Gazan city of Rafah and taken to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a charity involved in the effort said on Tuesday.

The charity, SOS Children’s Villages International, said it had worked “through diplomatic channels with all relevant authorities” to arrange to move the children, who were orphaned before the current war, to its orphanage in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

The German Embassy in Israel said that it had assisted in the effort after a request for help in mid-November from SOS Children’s Villages. The embassy said that evacuating the orphans was a temporary measure to get the children “out of acute danger,” not an attempt to move them permanently.

There was no immediate comment from Israel’s military or government about the operation, which the United Nations said took place with the approval of Israeli authorities. The German Embassy thanked Israel for “an important humanitarian gesture.”

More than a million Gazans have sought refuge in Rafah, many of them displaced previously and multiple times by Israeli military orders to move south for safety. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has for weeks vowed to push ahead with plans for a ground offensive in Rafah, prompting warnings from the United States and other allies, along with many aid groups, about the potential cost in civilian lives.

The 68 children were accompanied by 11 employees of SOS Children’s Villages and arrived in Bethlehem on Monday, the charity said.

“Even though the children are now relatively safe, we are still very concerned about all the other children and people who are still in grave danger in the Gaza Strip,” the organization said in a statement, noting that children continued to arrive at its orphanage in Rafah.

More than 30,000 people, including thousands of children, have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s assault on the enclave began, according to Gaza health authorities. At the beginning of February, UNICEF estimated that around 17,000 children in the enclave were unaccompanied or had been separated from their families.

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

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