Trapped Brazilians, source of tensions with Israel, still stuck in Gaza

By Lisandra Paraguassu

BRASILIA (Reuters) - A group of 34 Brazilians, trapped in Gaza since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war last month, saw their hopes of leaving extinguished again on Friday as the border with Egypt was shut, Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira said.

The Brazilians' dire situation has played a central role in Brazil's mounting displeasure with Israel's conduct in the conflict, which began with an attack on Israel from Gaza by Palestinian militants of Hamas on Oct. 7 that Israel has met with a bombardment of the enclave.

Brazilian officials say they have grown irate at the slow pace of exit for the Brazilians, with a view that Israel is slow-walking their release. The Rafah crossing through which foreign nationals and aid have been transported is controlled by Egypt.

The 34 Brazilians believed they would be leaving on Friday, and traveled from their shelter in Gaza to the border - only to have to return when they learned it would not be opened.

"The Brazilians were on the list since Wednesday, but their departure was not confirmed because there was no opening for individuals of different nationalities," Vieira told journalists in Brasilia. "The situation in Gaza doesn't allow me to say, at the moment, when they will leave."

Evacuations from Gaza through Rafah began on Nov. 1 for an estimated 7,000 foreign passport holders, dual nationals and their dependents, as well as a limited number of people needing urgent medical treatment.

"Despite many efforts by Israel and Brazil, Hamas today prevented the opening of the Rafah crossing and prevented Brazilian citizens from leaving the Gaza Strip," Israel's embassy in Brasilia posted on X, formerly Twitter.

The United States said on Thursday that Israel agreed to pause military operations in north Gaza for four hours a day to allow people to flee along two humanitarian corridors, but there was no sign of a let-up in the fighting. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said any pauses would be scattered, and there was no official confirmation of a plan for breaks.

The fate of the trapped Brazilians in Gaza is not the only issue to drive a wedge between Brazil and Israel in recent days.

An unusual statement by Israeli spy agency Mossad this week saying it had helped foil a Hezbollah attack in Brazil added to tensions, as did an appearance by Israel's ambassador to Brazil with former President Jair Bolsonaro, a staunch Israel ally and longtime foe of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Mossad's statement thanking Brazil for taking down the Hezbollah cell, and linking its alleged plotting of attacks to the war in Gaza, angered Brazilian Justice Minister Flavio Dino. He wrote on X that "Brazil is a sovereign country," and "no foreign force orders around the Brazilian Federal Police."

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Zonshine's meeting with Bolsonaro, and subsequent comments on the Hezbollah raid, also upset Lula's government. Bolsonaro holds no public office, has been ruled ineligible until 2030 and faces several criminal investigations.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; editing by Grant McCool)