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Palestinian-American mother and her children fleeing Israel-Hamas war finally get through Rafah border crossing

Foreign nationals race to escape Gaza
Foreign nationals race to escape Gaza 02:02

Cairo — When Laila Bseisso finally saw her name on a new list of 400 Americans approved to leave the Gaza Strip and flee the brutal war between Israel and Hamas through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt on Thursday, Nov. 2, her deep sense of relief at the thought of escaping the heavily bombarded enclave was soon followed by more worry.

Later, the White House would confirm that more than 100 U.S. citizens and their families left Gaza that day with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and that more were expected to be evacuated in the coming days. Two U.S. officials later told CBS News that about 130 Americans had checked in with the embassy in Cairo after departing southern Gaza into Egypt through the Rafah crossing. 

A list released by Gaza's Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry had the names of 400 American nationals who were approved to cross over the border into Egypt on Thursday. But Bseisso, a Palestinian-American mother and Ohio native, was surprised to find that two of her young children were not among the names listed.

Bseisso has three children. Hassan, the oldest, is 12 and has American citizenship, but his 7-year-old brother Mohamed and 10-year-old sister Nada were born in Gaza. They don't hold American passports. While Palestinian border authorities permitted Laila Bseisso and her three children through their border gate, she and the children were stuck waiting at the Egyptian side of the crossing.

Palestinian-American Laila Bseisso's three children, Hassan, 12; Nada, 10; and Mohamed, 7, pose for a photo.
Palestinian-American Laila Bseisso's three children, Hassan, 12; Nada, 10; and Mohamed, 7, pose for a photo. Laila Bseisso

Bseisso had been under the impression that the U.S. State Department was going to allow immediate family members to travel with U.S. passport holders. An October State Department statement had said that the U.S. "would continue to work urgently in partnership with Egypt and Israel to facilitate the ability of U.S. citizens and their immediate family members to exit Gaza safely and travel via Egypt to their final destinations."

On Wednesday, CBS News also spoke to an American cousin of Bseisso, Susan Beseiso, who was also waiting to cross the border, and had said that the State Department had given her guidance that "U.S. citizens and family members will be assigned specific departure dates to ensure an orderly crossing."

Bseisso, the Palestinian-American mother, called the U.S. Embassy in Cairo several times in an attempt to get clarity on her children's status. Embassy officials told Bseisso that they have sent the names of her children to the Egyptian government in an effort to allow the kids to leave with her.

"They only took the names of my two kids that are not listed, and they told me, 'It's up to you if you wanna wait,'" Bseisso told CBS News on Thursday. "I told them, you know, it's dangerous to go back and cross the border. This is the fifth time that I have come here, it's not easy to come here, nothing is certain and I don't know what to do."

"It is ridiculous to expect a mother to leave without her kids," Bseisso said.

Bseisso had traveled to the Rafah crossing with her extended family, hoping they would all go to Egypt together and then on to the U.S., but then she was left alone with her kids in the waiting hall, unsure of what would happen next.

When she got to the Egyptian side, she was received by the American embassy staff. In the end, they finished her children's paperwork and they were allowed to enter Egypt. Once through the border crossing, the family started making their way to Cairo by bus.

Laila Bseisso's three children with American flags
Laila Bseisso's three children with American flags after their journey from Gaza. Laila Bseisso
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