17 of 20 U.S. doctors stuck in Gaza depart with the help of American officials, source says

Seventeen of 20 U.S. doctors stuck in Gaza have departed, with the physician known for saving Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s life staying behind, a source familiar with the situation said.

The 17 humanitarian aid volunteers were received by U.S. officials at the Kerem Shalom Crossing at the Israel border, the source said, after the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem helped to facilitate their safe passage.

Dr. Adam Hamawy, credited with saving the life of Duckworth, D-Ill., when she served in the Iraq War 20 years ago, was among three U.S. doctors who stayed behind, the source said.

The departures came after the doctors were all but trapped in Gaza by Israel’s closure of border crossings ahead of an expected full-scale Israeli invasion of the city of Rafah. Israeli officials said earlier in the week they had reopened the Kerem Shalom Crossing, crucial to humanitarian aid.

Dr. Ammar Ghanem, an ICU specialist from Detroit who went to Gaza to volunteer his services, said earlier in the day that a group of American medical volunteers left Gaza on Friday through the crossing. It appears those 17 doctors composed this group.

“We have been in close contact with the groups that these U.S. doctors are part of, and we have been in contact with the families of these U.S. citizens,” a State Department spokesperson said in response to questions about the departures.

The three doctors who opted to stay are aware the U.S. Embassy may not be able to facilitate their departure in the same manner as was done Friday, the source said, calling it an “extremely unique operation.”

israel hamas conflict volunteer american doctor
Dr. Adam Hamawy.NBC News

Amid concern for civilian casualties, President Joe Biden has said he would not provide Israel with certain weapons and artillery shells if it launches a ground offensive in Rafah, where millions of Palestinians are sheltering. Senior administration officials earlier said the U.S. had halted a Israel-bound shipment of certain offensive weapons.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged disagreement with Biden over the plan, telling CNBC the operation was moving forward swiftly anyway and would be completed in a number of weeks.

Meanwhile, the United States has constructed a floating pier to move truckloads of humanitarian aide into Gaza. The shipments were set in motion on Friday morning. U.S. Central Command said.

Duckworth has been working to safely extricate Hamawy from Gaza, under attack by Israel after the surprise invasion by Hamas militants Oct. 7. That attack triggered Israel’s declaration of war against the Gaza-based militant group.

In an interview earlier this week, the former Army combat surgeon said there was much work to do in Gaza.

“We’re doing the best we can with the resources that we have to continue the mission that we’re here for — is to take care of the people in Gaza and the injured and the sick,” he said.

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