Israeli authorities say 68 people –19 sick or wounded children plus their companions — have been allowed out of the Gaza Strip and into Egypt in the first medical evacuation since early May, when the territory’s sole travel crossing was shut down after Israel captured it.

The nearly nine-month Israel-Hamas war has devastated Gaza’s health sector and forced most of its hospitals to shut down. Health officials say thousands of people need medical treatment abroad, including hundreds of urgent cases.

The Israeli military body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, known by its acronym COGAT, said that the evacuation was carried out in coordination with officials from the United States, Egypt and the international community.

The children and their companions left Gaza via the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing, and the patients were to travel to Egypt and farther abroad for medical treatment.

Family members bade a tearful goodbye to the kids at Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. Many of the families appeared anxious — most relatives had to stay behind, and even those allowed to accompany the patients did not know their final destination.

Orthodox Jews protest conscription

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men blocked a major highway in central Israel for two hours on Thursday to protest a recent Supreme Court decision ordering young religious men to enlist for military service. Military service is compulsory for most Jewish men and women in Israel. But politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have won exemptions for their followers that allow them instead to study in religious seminaries. This arrangement has bred widespread resentment.

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