'We expect American citizens to exit' Gaza Wednesday, Biden says

After weeks of negotiations, President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that some Americans trapped inside Gaza have left and more would be allowed to exit in the coming days -- a possible light at the end of the tunnel for the hundreds of U.S. citizens that have endured harsh conditions amid a worsening humanitarian crisis and grave risk from strikes in the enclave.

"Today, thanks to American leadership, we secured safe passage for wounded Palestinians and for foreign nationals to exit Gaza. We expect American citizens to exit today, and we expect to see more depart over the coming days. We won't let up working to get Americans out of Gaza," he wrote in a post on X Wednesday afternoon.

Delivering remarks later Wednesday in Minnesota, Biden said that "thanks to concerted American leadership, we're in a situation where safe passage where safe passage for wounded Palestinians and foreign nationals to exit Gaza has started."

"American citizens were able to exit today as part of the first group of probably over 1,000. We'll see more of this process going on in the coming days," Biden said. "We're working nonstop to get Americans out of Gaza as soon and safely as possible."

Biden said he "personally spent a lot of time speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and President Sisi of Egypt and others to make sure that we could open this access for people to get out."

PHOTO: President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a visit to Dutch Creek Farms in Northfield, Minnesota, Nov. 1, 2023. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
PHOTO: President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a visit to Dutch Creek Farms in Northfield, Minnesota, Nov. 1, 2023. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

During a press briefing at the State Department, spokesperson Matthew Miller confirmed the initial exodus of 335 foreign passport holders through the Rafah gate, Gaza's only border crossing with Egypt, had included U.S. citizens, and that U.S. officials had reached out the roughly 400 American citizens and 600 of their immediate family members -- that have expressed a desire to leave Gaza.

"We've asked them to continue to monitor their email regularly for the next 24 to 72 hours for specific instructions about how to exit the U.S. Embassy in Cairo is standing by to provide assistance to US citizens as they enter Egypt," Miller said.

U.S. officials have declined to say exactly how many Americans have been allowed to exit, citing security concerns, but National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby described the number as "a handful."

While the Biden administration has described the latest developments in its push to allow foreign nationals to leave Gaza as a "breakthrough," officials have also stressed that the situation remains "extremely fluid" and could change at any point.

Miller declined to say how many Americans would ultimately be allowed to depart Gaza, how many might be permitted to leave each day, or whether Rafah gate might be sealed off to outbound traffic again. But he stressed that any U.S. national who wanted to leave should contact the State Department without delay.

"What I will say is that if there's any American citizen in Gaza who has not yet registered with the State Department, and they want to leave -- they should register with the State Department as soon as possible," he said.

Officials have also shared little about the contours of the apparent agreement brokered between Hamas, Israel and Egypt to allow for the departure of foreign nationals and some injured Palestinians through the Rafah crossing.

"Ultimately, we got to the point where we were able to feel confident that we can get American citizens out really in the past 24 hours," Miller said.

Although the administration has blamed Hamas alone for preventing departures from Gaza up until this point, Miller declined to say whether the terrorist organization was controlling the rate at which civilians could depart the enclave or if there were other limiting factors at play.

Miller also signaled that the administration had not yet received any assurance that immediate family members of U.S. citizens that do not hold dual citizenship would be permitted to depart at the same time.

"We are working to have all of these things happen together," Miller said. "It is always our policy to try and keep families together, and that's what we're trying to make happen."

PHOTO: Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt at Rafah, Gaza Strip, Nov. 1, 2023. (Fatima Shbair/AP)
PHOTO: Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt at Rafah, Gaza Strip, Nov. 1, 2023. (Fatima Shbair/AP)

Earlier Wednesday, five American aid workers were among the foreign nationals who crossed the Rafah border from Gaza into Egypt, according to the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund.

But challenges remain for those who want to exit. While Israel began gradually restoring internet and phone service in Gaza after imposing prolonged outages over the weekend, many Americans in the enclave report that connectivity remains spotty—raising questions about whether the State Department will be able to reach U.S. nationals with information on when and how they can exit through the Rafah gate.

"At times Israel may need to take operational steps that they have judged they need to take, but I will say as a general principle, it is the position of the US government that Internet access needs to remain viable for the people of Gaza," Miller said.

Maha Barakat, an aid worker and mother from New Jersey who was forced to flee from her home in Gaza weeks ago, says communications were disrupted for nine hours on Wednesday and she still cannot access emails because her internet connection is too weak.

"I have no idea how much longer I can endure this," Barakat said in a message to ABC News. "I won't believe I survived or start getting any hope until I leave -- if I ever get to leave."

'We expect American citizens to exit' Gaza Wednesday, Biden says originally appeared on abcnews.go.com