Nearly 80 Americans have departed Gaza, US says

Palestinians gather at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Bureij in the central Gaza Strip

By Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States said 79 of its citizens had left the Gaza Strip in the two days since a crossing opened to Egypt while Israel attacks the Palestinian enclave in a drive against the militant group Hamas.

"Good news, we got out today 74 American folks, dual citizens,” President Joe Biden told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday at the start of a meeting with the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader.

The White House said another five Americans left on Wednesday. Further details were not immediately available on who had left and when.

White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday that officials were helping the Americans get to the U.S. embassy in Egypt and travel elsewhere "as appropriate."

"We obviously continue to be focused on getting as many Americans out as quickly as possible, and we still fully expect that more Americans will be able to depart," Kirby said.

More Americans may be able to leave later on Thursday and it was unclear how many days it could take to get out all the Americans who want to leave, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week told a Senate committee there were around 400 American citizens and their family members totaling around 1,000 people who wanted to get out.

On Thursday, Blinken told reporters he would discuss in Israel on Friday "concrete steps" that should be taken to minimize harm to Gaza civilians amid mounting alarm over soaring casualties in Israel's bombardment.

Gaza has been under bombardment since Palestinian Hamas gunmen on Oct. 7 killed what Israel says were 1,400 people and took more than 240 captive into Gaza.

Gaza health authorities say more than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes since Oct. 7. Israel says it is aiming its attacks at Hamas, not civilians, and accuses the group of using them as human shields.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; additional reporting by Paul Grant; writing by Susan Heavey; editing by David Ljunggren and Howard Goller)