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Lawyers sue federal government — want American citizens in Gaza evacuated

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On the West Bank, we have news out of Gaza today. A border crossing to get out of Gaza is now apparently open for some people. The Hamas-run General Authority for Crossings and Borders says the exit to Egypt, the Rafah crossing, is open to some foreign passport holders and aid workers. This is a developing story, and we do not know if the some foreign passport holders include about 400 Americans stuck in Gaza. One of those Americans is Abood Okal from Massachusetts, who's in Gaza with his wife and 1-year-old. He sent a voice message on Sunday.

ABOOD OKAL: We are almost out of drinking water today. I think we have enough just to last us through the night, and then tomorrow we'd be basically out. If we can't find an alternative source of water tomorrow, we'd have no choice but to turn to the unfiltered, or unprocessed, well water, which in normal days is considered nondrinkable water.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Before today's announcement of a border crossing open for some people, lawyers for dozens of those Americans sue the U.S. government to try and force an evacuation. Ghassan Shamieh is one of those lawyers who have filed suit in California and Texas and Michigan, with more coming. He joins us now. How far does the opening at Rafah go to address your concerns about safe passage for Americans there?

GHASSAN SHAMIEH: A, it doesn't go far at all. In fact, all initial reports indicate that of the people allowed to cross the Rafah crossing, less than 5% were foreign national or dual citizens. And of those foreign nationals and dual citizens, all were Jordanian passport holders or Eastern European. There are no indications that any Americans, including any of our clients, were allowed to cross at this limited opening today.

MARTÍNEZ: So just no dent at all then?

SHAMIEH: Nothing at all.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So on the lawsuits then, what's the objective of the lawsuits?

SHAMIEH: The objective is to get the State Department to issue an emergency evacuation order. There's precedent for this, A. The State Department has utilized its Navy and its military and its planes and helicopters to evacuate U.S. citizens from the Taliban in Afghanistan, from Lebanon. So the goal is to safely evacuate all American citizens trapped in Gaza, just like all Israeli Americans were evacuated safely from Haifa.

MARTÍNEZ: Tell us about your clients, the people you're fighting for.

SHAMIEH: Absolutely. I represent two grandmothers, two 80-plus-year-old ladies who have 10 grandchildren each, who are taxpaying citizens, who have missed birthdays, who have missed special occasions as a result of being trapped in Gaza. The limited communication that the family has with them, they tell them that they're fearful that they may not make it home. They tell them that they love them and they're afraid that they're going to die before they're ever helped out of Gaza.

MARTÍNEZ: I mean, it just sounds like there's no hope. I mean, is that putting it too lightly or just...

SHAMIEH: It's not lightly at all, A. And that's why these families have resorted to these lawsuits. Suing the government is no small task. And so because the State Department has been effectively not communitive (ph) and not relaying information to these families, they have no resort but to file a lawsuit to try to put pressure on the government. And hopefully today is an indication that this pressure is working. And hopefully it leads to all 600 Americans being evacuated.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Ghassan Shamieh is a lawyer representing Americans stuck in Gaza. He's one of several attorneys across the country filing lawsuits against the U.S. government. Thank you very much.

SHAMIEH: Thank you, A.

MARTÍNEZ: And NPR has reached out to the State Department. And we were told they do not comment on ongoing litigation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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