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Livonia couple headed back to US after difficulty leaving Gaza

Palestinians with dual nationality register to cross to Egypt on the Gaza Strip side of the border crossing in Rafah on Thursday.
Hatem Ali
Palestinians with dual nationality register to cross to Egypt on the Gaza Strip side of the border crossing in Rafah on Thursday.

Update: Friday, November 3, 8:20 p.m.

Zacharia and Laila Alarayshi were headed back to the U.S. Friday, the Arab American Civil Rights League said in a statement.

"The Arab American Civil Rights League is thrilled to announce that, with the unwavering support of the media and an exceptional team of attorneys, our esteemed clients, the Alarayshi family, have successfully left the war-torn region of Gaza and are en route home to the United States," the group said.

"We've been working tirelessly to achieve this, and it is a moment of great relief for all involved."

Original story: Thursday, November 2, 12:38 a.m.

Some U.S. citizens trapped in Gaza since the Israel-Hamas war began last month have begun leaving the Palestinian territory via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

But as of Thursday, a Palestinian-American couple from Livonia remains there, according to their family and advocates with the Arab American Civil Rights League.

Yahya Alarayshi, the couple’s son, said that as of Wednesday, his father Zachariah was among those on a list of those allowed to cross, but his mother Laila was not.

Zachariah Alarayshi opted to remain in Gaza with his wife. Arab American Civil Rights League Executive Director Mariam Charara said Thursday that he got a phone call from U.S. officials Wednesday night, saying his wife’s name will be added to the list of people allowed to cross.

“He received a call from Washington, D.C. recently and said that they will add her name to the list,” Charara said. “So we're hoping and praying that that's the case. And we're hoping and praying that that's what's going to happen very soon.”

The ACRL filed a lawsuit last month calling on the federal government to make greater efforts to evacuate American citizens trapped in Gaza. They say those trapped in the territory have received confused and conflicting information about when and whether they may be allowed to leave, and believe there’s a “double standard” when it comes to evacuating Palestinian-Americans as opposed to Israelis with dual citizenship.

Yahya Alarayshi said his parents have been hunkered down in a building in south Gaza with over 100 other people, facing constant Israeli airstrikes and without access to needed medication or clean water.

“Bombing’s around them, literally around them, every single day for the last three and a half weeks,” Yahya said. “And we want them home. We want them home as soon as possible.”

U.S officials said that as of Thursday, 79 Americans and some family members had been able to leave Gaza. They expect more will cross the border with Egypt in the coming days.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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