How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children

How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children
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Rebel-held Jindires, in Aleppo province in northwest Syria, was relatively more fortunate in the sense that it received humanitarian aid fairly soon after the February 6 earthquakes. (AFP file photo)
How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children
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A view of Jableh town in Syria's Latakia on February 10, 2023, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake. (AFP)
How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children
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Displaced Syrians living in war-damaged buildings, are pictured in Syria's rebel-held northern city of Raqa on March 1, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 07 August 2023

How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children

How Feb. 6 earthquake compounded the misery of northwest Syria’s children
  • Scale of suffering of separated or orphaned children in impoverished region called “multifaceted and concerning”
  • NGOs say humanitarian situation is complicated by loss of documentation during both conflict and earthquake

LONDON: Rescued from under rubble six months ago, Hiba, who has not yet turned six, lost her entire family and part of her foot in Syria’s deadly earthquakes in February. In need of constant care, she now lives with distant relatives in an overcrowded displacement camp.

Hiba, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is one of thousands of children orphaned by two temblors that struck southern Turkiye and northern Syria on Feb. 6, which upended the lives of at least 2.5 million children in Syria alone, according to UNICEF.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake near the Turkiye-Syria border in the early hours of the morning was followed by another one almost as strong, resulting in one of the biggest humanitarian disasters to strike the region in recent times.

Tens of thousands of people were killed and many more injured. Innumerable buildings, including homes, schools and hospitals, collapsed, leaving large swathes of the local population exposed to harsh winter conditions.

Rebel-held Jindires, in Aleppo province in northwest Syria, was relatively more fortunate in the sense that it received humanitarian aid fairly soon after the February 6 earthquakes. (AFP file photo)

Children who lost all adult family members in the earthquakes either moved in with distant relatives, many of whom had themselves been displaced by the devastation, or had to fend for themselves.

The repercussions of the natural and humanitarian disasters in northwest Syria have been especially harmful to orphaned children with no adult relatives in the area. They are vulnerable to various forms of abuse, trafficking and mental-health disorders.

The scale of the suffering being endured by separated or orphaned children in northwest Syria “is vast, multifaceted and deeply concerning,” said Hamzah Barhameyeh, advocacy and communication manager at World Vision, an international child-focused charity.

“The situation was already dire owing to the conflict, but the earthquakes have significantly compounded the hardship faced by these children, affecting various aspects of their well-being and development.”

A volunteer from the humanitarian organization Space of Peace attends to children at a refugee center for people displaced by the February earthquakes in northern Syria. (Supplied)

The challenges, according to Barhameyeh, include “trauma and psychosomatic problems” as well as “physical injuries and disabilities, inadequate health support and disrupted education.”

Additionally, there are concerns over heightened risks of child marriage and child labor, not to mention recruitment by armed groups in a war-torn region.

“(Boys) are at higher risk of becoming separated, unaccompanied, or ending up living on the streets,” Barhameyeh told Arab News. “Adolescent boys face the substantial danger of being recruited into armed groups.

A photo taken on May 23, 2023 shows Syrian kids getting ready to board a bus turned into a traveling classroom for children left homeless and school-less in Jindires, Aleppo. Aid groups are worried that many orphaned children are vulnerable to recruitment by rebels. (AFP file photo)

“There is also a noticeable trend of child labor and violent behavior, increase in substance abuse and run-ins with the law. These experiences are predominantly common in the case of boys.”

Diana Al-Ali, founder of a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) called Suriana, says that during her encounters with children in displacement camps, many rush forward to hold her hand, seeking comfort and safety.

Apparently, even children who have not been orphaned often endure beatings by parents who themselves are under a lot of stress.

The Turkiye-Syria earthquake has orphaned many Syrian children against a backdrop of mass displacement, destroyed schools and limited access to water and sanitation. (Supplied)

“Many children are in urgent need of emotional support,” Al-Ali told Arab News, citing cases of young people attempting suicide owing to untreated trauma-related mental illness.

Among the children she regularly supports is a girl who refuses to step on the ground and is terrified of ants, convinced that, just as in children’s cartoons, the crawling creatures shake the ground when they move.

Similarly, Hiba, who needs regular medication and trips to the hospital, is terrified of walls and ceilings; the shock she suffered during the earthquake was so severe that she still shows no reaction when spoken to.

A volunteer from the humanitarian organization Space of Peace attends to children at a refugee center for people displaced by the February earthquakes in northern Syria. (Supplied)

Al-Ali says her charity has been providing children and their guardians with cash, foodstuffs, medicines, diapers and even entertainment activities, but she describes the unmet humanitarian needs in the quake-hit region as enormous.

The UN Security Council failed in July to renew authorization for UN humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria’s rebel-held northwest through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing, cutting off a vital lifeline for more than four million aid-dependent people.

On July 11, a day after Resolution 2672 expired, two rival resolutions to allow the continuation of UN aid flow from Turkiye were vetoed by Russia on the one hand, and the US, the UK and France on the other.

Compounding the suffering in Syria’s northwest is a searing summer heatwave, which has seen temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius and fires break out in displacement camps in Idlib and northern Aleppo, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


58,000 Deaths in southern Turkiye and northwest Syria in Feb. 6 earthquakes.

200,000 Buildings damaged or destroyed, including schools and hospitals.

2.5 million Children impacted by earthquakes in Syria alone (UNICEF).

Mental health support remains inaccessible for most, said Al-Ali, recounting the plight of a child battling epilepsy while living in a tent. “He needs costly medication every month, and his father was killed in the conflict,” she said.

Al-Ali added that many of the tents in question are so cramped that there is no space to lie down, forcing individuals to remain seated in one spot for long periods of time.

“Organizations operating in the region did not provide mental health support when the quake struck,” she said, adding that the humanitarian focus on the two cities of A’zaz and Jindires meant that other areas failed to receive adequate attention.

Children's needs in NW Syria are soaring & more, not less, humanitarian access is needed. (World Vision)

“There were not many organizations (operating) here when the quakes struck, so we relied on personal efforts alongside the NGOs Violet and Shafak, which provided bread.

“There is not enough funding dedicated to children’s well-being. We are the only ones providing recreational activities for children, and mental health support sessions.

“We have programs dedicated to helping minors feel safe and each child is assessed to identify their needs.”

Among the many factors militating against the protection of orphaned and separated children, according to World Vision’s Barhameyeh, is the loss of civil documentation during the conflict and the earthquakes.

Describing the situation as “highly complex and challenging,” he said that the absence of the documents poses “a significant barrier” to the achievement of a normal life by these children.

Elaborating on the problem, Barhameyeh said that while there are nongovernmental organizations providing protection against trafficking and other threats, “these services are not fully integrated or collaborative with local councils,” with the “absence of formal child-protection mechanisms” also playing a role.

With limited funding allocated for child protection, millions of children remain not only vulnerable, but also in a state of politico-bureaucratic limbo. (AFP)

A lack of proof of legal identity “severely hinders” children’s “ability to exercise their rights,” he said, adding that the documentation problem is becoming alarmingly “multi-generational” as more children are born in displacement to parents “who themselves lack proper documents.

“An additional layer of complexity is being introduced by various authorities issuing their own documents, leading to a proliferation of documentation.”

According to Barhameyeh, there may be short-term benefits for the holders of the documents in areas under the control of the issuing authorities, but they could cause serious security problems in the long run, “including arbitrary arrest and detention by the government of Syria, particularly outside northwest Syria.”

With limited funding allocated for child protection and the risks greatly outweighing the resources available, millions of children remain not only vulnerable, but also in a state of administrative limbo.

The broad consensus of NGOs and charities active in the region is that unless efforts to protect children are intensified, what awaits them is a grim and uncertain fate.


Israeli military attacks southern Lebanon for second day running

Israeli soldiers stand by, as a mobile artillery unit fires on the Israeli side of the Israel-Lebanon border December 2, 2023.
Israeli soldiers stand by, as a mobile artillery unit fires on the Israeli side of the Israel-Lebanon border December 2, 2023.
Updated 14 sec ago

Israeli military attacks southern Lebanon for second day running

Israeli soldiers stand by, as a mobile artillery unit fires on the Israeli side of the Israel-Lebanon border December 2, 2023.
  • Lebanese PM highlights environmental deterioration due to Israeli hostilities
  • Use of prohibited weapons including white phosphorus denounced

BEIRUT: Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants exchanged fire across the Israel-Lebanon border on Saturday in a second day of hostilities.

Israeli airstrikes hit multiple border towns as the Israeli army said that it had “retaliated against attacks originating from southern Lebanon.”

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Israeli aggression against Lebanon was not only affecting its people but also causing environmental damage.

“Large areas in Lebanon have been exposed to severe impacts, leading to environmental deterioration resulting from the ongoing Israeli hostilities,” Mikati, who is currently attending the COP28 conference in Dubai, said.

He said Israeli violations included the use of prohibited weapons such as white phosphorus, which killed civilians and caused irreparable damage to more than 5 million square meters of forest, agricultural land, and thousands of olive trees, all of which would lead to the destruction of livelihoods and sources of income and the displacement of tens of thousands of Lebanese.

Mikati met with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the conference and praised Ireland for its active contribution to the UN’s Interim Force in Lebanon.

Mikati also discussed the situation in Gaza and southern Lebanon with French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of COP28. The results of French special envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian’s visit to Beirut were also explored.

According to local media, during his visit Le Drian had discussed the possibility of amending UN Resolution 1701 at Israel’s request so that Hezbollah had to retreat at least 15 km from the border.

MP Waddah Sadek, who met Le Drian, told Arab News that the envoy “did not tackle the issue, but we announced that we are committed to the resolution and its implementation as it is, in light of Israel’s request to amend it for its benefit.”

He added that Le Drian “did not comment on our stance, and what was said came as part of the discussion regarding the course of the implementation of Resolution 1701.”

Nabil Kaouk — a member of Hezbollah’s central council — said the party “will not allow any Israeli gains or any new Israeli equation at the expense of Lebanese sovereignty, because the Lebanese people have the right to exist and move on any inch of our land in the south.”

He asserted that Hezbollah “was, is, and will remain the biggest supporter of the people of Gaza.”

Speaking on behalf of Hezbollah, Kaouk also said: “Some people are promoting Israeli demands and goals inside and outside the country by requesting the amendment of Resolution 1701 to create a buffer zone on the border to reassure the settlers who are afraid to return to their settlements due to Hezbollah’s presence on the border.”

Kaouk’s remarks came as the Israeli military launched flare shells on Saturday at Wadi Hamoul and Al-Labouneh, located east of Naqoura.

Israeli airstrikes also targeted several valleys in Aita al-Shaab and Ramiya.

Hezbollah has repeatedly declared that it has attacked previously targeted Israeli military locations over the last 50 days, including Khirbet Maar, Ruwaisat Al-Alam in the Kfar Shuba Heights, the 91st Division headquarters in the Branit barracks, and the Al-Raheb military site and its garrison.

On Saturday, Hezbollah held funerals for three of its members who were killed on the border with Israel during confrontations on Friday after the end of the truce in the Gaza Strip:

Khader Salim Abboud, Mohammed Hussein Mazraani, and Wajih Shehada Mishik. Eighty-eight Hezbollah members have reportedly been killed between the opening of the southern Lebanese front on Oct. 8 and Dec. 2.

Nassifa Mazraani, a civilian, and her son were killed on Friday inside their house by an Israeli shell in the town of Hula. Mazraani had survived the July 2006 war, in which she suffered burns, and had been detained by Israeli forces before they withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000. She was one of those freed in prisoner-exchange agreements.

Israeli media reported that the Israeli military has asked residents of the northern border region near southern Lebanon to refrain from traveling to and from towns that have been evacuated due to a security assessment.

The military advised individuals to limit movement within settlements and remain in protected areas. Israeli authorities have also banned agricultural activity in the area.



‘Nothing like we have seen before’: medics describe Gaza injuries on UAE evacuation flight

‘Nothing like we have seen before’: medics describe Gaza injuries on UAE evacuation flight
Updated 29 min 49 sec ago

‘Nothing like we have seen before’: medics describe Gaza injuries on UAE evacuation flight

‘Nothing like we have seen before’: medics describe Gaza injuries on UAE evacuation flight
  • Medics reported severe burns, injuries, fractures and deformities on children’s bodies
  • Working under intense environments, UAE medics were prepared for all scenarios on evacuation flight

ABU DHABI: Nothing could have prepared Palestinian pediatric nurse Etimad Hassouna for what she saw as she aided injured Palestinian children evacuated from Gaza on a UAE mission.

Hailing from Gaza, Hassouna was among a volunteering team of about 30 medical professionals from the UAE’s Burjeel Hospital, NMC Royal Hospital and Sheikh Khalifa Medical City. The team has worked tirelessly to assist war-stricken patients in unpredictable and challenging evacuation missions that last up to 24 hours.

On an Etihad Airways flight that evacuated 120 injured Palestinians and their families on Friday following intense violence after the truce ended, Hassouna told Arab News that the injuries inflicted on Gazans are “nothing like I have never seen before” during her 22-year professional experience.

“I saw cases of children with severe burns, injuries and fractures in an intensity I have never witnessed throughout my career in emergency departments, surgery and pediatric wards. Most of the patients coming from under the rubble are disabled for life.”

Hassouna works alongside colleagues with a diverse range of expertise to ensure injured evacuees remain in a stable condition on the “flying hospital” from Egypt’s Al-Arish until they land in Abu Dhabi for further treatment.

While the unpredictability of the situation prompts the team to be logistically prepared for all cases and act on the spot, Hassouna said that the extent of the suffering was still difficult to witness.

“It’s a mix of feelings between sadness, to see innocent children suffering on this magnitude, and happiness, to have the opportunity to help rescue them. This small contribution makes me feel I’m giving back, given that we have been feeling rather helpless,” said Hassouna, who left Gaza 30 years ago.

Etimad Hassouna aid injured Palestinian children and cancer patients evacuated from her hometown Gaza. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)

Asked how she copes with treating severe cases coming from her homeland, she said that “faith and hope” have kept her going. “The reason you go on a mission like this is the same reason you cope, especially when you are helping children.”

Hassouna, whose relatives are displaced in Gaza and living in dire conditions, said: “It hasn’t been easy, but I have to be strong for the women, children and patients.”

Some of Hassouna’s colleagues serving the UAE’s goal to evacuate 2,000 injured Palestinian children and cancer patients have experience working in war zones.

Yet, Sabreen Tawalbeh, a Jordanian nursing manager at Burjeel Medical Center in Abu Dhabi, said the team is witnessing injuries more severe than in any past Gaza conflict.

Although Tawalbeh served as part of a medical team inside Gaza during the 2014 war, she said the burns and injuries on children’s bodies resulting from Israel’s bombardment since Oct. 7 were more acute and violent.

“I received a two-year-old baby whose entire lower body was burned. The children I have dealt with had serious deformities,” said Tawalbeh, who was on her third UAE mission.

More than medical care, patients arriving with extreme shock and trauma require a hope-driven approach.

“It’s important during the evacuation to make them feel safe, given that they are moving to a new place away from the home they have never left, let alone under trauma effects.”

Serving in Gaza war 2014, Sabreen Tawalbeh says children's injuries in the ongoing war are far more severe. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)

Tawalbeh added: “We need to give them hope that their situation is temporary; that they will return home someday stronger and fully recovered.”

The medical professional, who has tended to war victims in Libya, Afghanistan and Congo, said she will never forget an 11-year-old boy who arrived as a companion to his two cousins, a 7-year-old boy with a fractured skull and a two-year-old baby. The family of the two children had been killed.

“I saw a child become a hero. He was a man who probably never got to live his childhood,” said Tawalbeh. “After serving in this field for so long, I felt I was chosen for this mission, and I love being part of helping people.


Constantly improving missions

UAE doctors and nurses have no knowledge of the cases they will receive beforehand, prompting them to follow a flexible plan throughout the mission. They must be prepared with all types of equipment and a range of specializations.

To increase their future preparedness, the medical staff constantly learn from the challenges of each mission and aim to improve for the next.

During the first evacuation mission, for example, the team faced difficulties moving a patient with a spinal cord injury into the plane due to a lack of equipment to prevent his neck from moving. Another mission received a far higher number of patients than expected.

“Every mission we learn something new,” said Tawalbeh.

Paramedics follow a flexible, agile plan to accomodate all types of cases coming from Gaza. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)

Kenneth Charles Dittrich, a consultant emergency physician from SKMC, said that his team comprised anesthetists, respiratory technologists, administrative assistants to help with identifying people, and four nursing staff to prepare for contingencies across all ages groups.

“The evacuated patients go through multiple checks at different borders. During that time, stable people’s condition can change, and to deal with such dynamic medical conditions, we need to constantly be on our feet and serve different roles.”

The staff coordinate with the on-ground medical personnel deployed in Rafah and Al-Arish, as well as Egyptian paramedics, who provide an initial assessment of the patients and give a list of the cases coming on board.

Upon receiving patients, the UAE medics perform reassessments and develop a treatment plan to follow on the flight.

The medics also work in coordination with UAE authorities to distribute the patients to different specialist hospitals across the country.

The Emirati mission includes a range of nationalities, demonstrating their unity in supporting the humanitarian cause.

Kenneth Charles Dittrich, emergency specialists, said the key aspect of his work, especially during war zones, is to remain human. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)

Not a stranger to operating in challenging war zones throughout his 42-year career, Dittrich said that he had learned to make boundaries on the job but would allow himself to process the emotions of stress later.

He added that a key aspect of his work is to “remain human,” adding: “It’s overwhelming to think of people escaping deaths and recognizing what they have left behind.

“The first thing we would do is provide them with nutrition and hydration after long journeys with emotions and stress, and trauma.

“We are in a position to help, and that’s always a positive aspect.”

Iran says Israeli strike in Syria killed 2 IRGC members while on advisory mission

Iran says Israeli strike in Syria killed 2 IRGC members while on advisory mission
Updated 3 min 41 sec ago

Iran says Israeli strike in Syria killed 2 IRGC members while on advisory mission

Iran says Israeli strike in Syria killed 2 IRGC members while on advisory mission
  • The report on the Guard’s news portal identified the two members as Mohammad Ali Ataei Shourcheh and Panah Taghizadeh
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition war monitor, said the strikes hit the southern Damascus suburb of Sayyida Zeinab

TEHRAN: Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard stated through its website that two of its forces stationed in Syria were killed in an Israeli airstrike Saturday.
The report on the Guard’s news portal identified the two members as Mohammad Ali Ataei Shourcheh and Panah Taghizadeh, and said they were carrying out an advisory mission in Syria. It did not elaborate on their rank, or the area where they were killed.
Syrian state media, quoting an unnamed military official, said Israeli airstrikes hit several areas on the outskirts of the capital Damascus early Saturday. The strikes resulted in only “material losses,” the report added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition war monitor, said the strikes hit the southern Damascus suburb of Sayyida Zeinab, where “there are military forces working with the Lebanese (militant group) Hezbollah.” It said the strike killed two Syrian citizens and two foreigners and wounded five others.
This latest development is likely to increase tensions between Israel and Iran, which has been a staunch supporter of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. Iranian officials have warned repeatedly that the Israel-Hamas war, which erupted on Oct.7, could spread to other parts of the region.
Iran’s military presence in Syria has been a major concern for Israel, which has vowed to stop Iranian entrenchment along its northern border. Syria has accused Israel of carrying out hundreds of strikes on targets in government-controlled parts in recent years — but Israel has rarely acknowledged such strikes.
Iran has been a main supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad during the country’s 12-year civil war. Thousands of Iran-backed fighters have been deployed in Syria where they helped tip the balance of power in Assad’s favor over the past years.
Scores of Iranian Revolutionary Guard members have been killed during the war in Syria though Tehran has long said it has only a military advisory role in Syria.
Since the Israel-Hamas began, Israel has carried out several strikes targeting Syria, putting the international airports of Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo out of commission for more than a month.

UAE stages challenging evacuation of Gaza patients as truce ends

UAE stages challenging evacuation of Gaza patients as truce ends
Updated 50 min 52 sec ago

UAE stages challenging evacuation of Gaza patients as truce ends

UAE stages challenging evacuation of Gaza patients as truce ends
  • UAE medical staff said more Palestinians could have been saved more if truce was extended
  • Gaza evacuees recounted horror journey to Rafah crossing amid post-truce intense bombardment

ABU DHABI: At least 120 injured Palestinian children and cancer patients along with their families have been evacuated from Gaza to the UAE for treatment in the first Emirati mission carried out after the week-long truce between Hamas and Israel ended.

However, UAE medical staff, who arrived on a chartered plane at Egypt’s Al-Arish International Airport at 4 p.m. to airlift patients to Abu Dhabi on Friday, said that more Palestinians could have been saved if the truce was extended.

Dr. Maha Barakat, the UAE assistant minister of foreign affairs for health, told Arab News that the renewed bombardment has complicated the evacuation of Palestinians through the Rafah border crossing.

“We would have had more seats on the plane filled with patients if the ceasefire had continued, but it’s just unfortunate,” said Barakat from the tarmac of Abu Dhabi International Airport, where Palestinian patients arrived to safety early Saturday at 5 a.m. following a complex 14-hour evacuation mission.

The Etihad Airways’ Boeing-777 plane, which has transformed into a flying hospital, carried the fourth group of Palestinian patients since the UAE’s evacuation mission started on Nov. 18 with an aim to take in 1,000 injured children and 1,000 cancer patients of all ages for treatment in UAE hospitals.

Arab News was on board the humanitarian mission that took off from Abu Dhabi to Al-Arish airport where patients arrived in Egyptian ambulances from Rafah.

Elderly cancer patients were taken on stretchers and wheelchairs, and delicately transported into the aircraft via hydraulic lifts.

UAE medics assess patients before delicately transporting them into the aircraft via hydraulic lift. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)

While the first three evacuation flights carried many children with trauma and some with cancer to the UAE, Friday’s flight mainly transported adult and children cancer patients, with only a few cases suffering from trauma injuries.

Weary, sleep-deprived and in pain, many of the patients received painkillers for the first time since the Oct. 7 conflict began, after Israeli bombardment caused a complete collapse of the health system in Gaza and pushed the enclave into a serious humanitarian crisis.

Intense bombing was reported across in Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, killing hundreds shortly after the humanitarian truce collapsed.

Barakat detailed the long journeys that Gazans take to reach the Rafah crossing with Egypt amid the intense bombardment in the war zone. “Patients arriving today would have left Gaza to the Rafah border at 8:30 a.m. without proper food or drink. Some of them waited for security clearance to get through the border to Egypt until 5:30 p.m.

“By the time they arrived in Al-Arish airport, they were exhausted, and many of them were in pain.”

Elderly cancer patients from Gaza arrived to Al-Arish airport where boarded an aircraft to Abu Dhabi for treatment. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)

At Al-Arish airport, 50 km away from Rafah, Mohammed Abdel-Fattah, a paramedic from the Egyptian Ambulance Authority receiving Gaza patients for evacuation through the border, told Arab News about the intense bombardment at the Rafah crossing on Friday.

“Buildings on the Egyptian side of Rafah were heavily shaking from the bombardment,” he said.


Challenging evacuation process

A team of about 30 doctors, nurses and medics aided patients on board, liaising with another specialist UAE team on the ground in Egypt’s Al-Arish and Rafah. The ground team carries out preliminary assessments on patients arriving through the border.

The UAE has been working with partners like the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescents to identify and assess patients who can cross the Rafah border in what Barakat called a “complex and challenging process that takes a long time.”

She added: “Getting information on who can cross Rafah border and when is the most challenging part.”

Asked how people are selected for evacuation, Barakat said that UAE authorities receive a list of patients from the few hospitals still operating inside Gaza. Patients are then asked to head to the Rafah border, where only those who obtain a security clearance from Israeli and Egyptian authorities are allowed to leave Gaza.

Leukemia patient Karma and her mother on Etihad Airways flight after being evacuated from Gaza. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)

“I didn’t think we’d survive”

Abdelrahman Hussam Zyada, 31, said he narrowly escaped death twice on his way to Rafah as a companion for his mother, a cancer patient with severe back and knee issues.

“We bid farewell to our relatives on Friday morning before we left for Rafah. By then, the truce had ended, and I asked them to pray for us whether we survive or die. And I don’t know if I will ever see them again,” said Zyada, who has lost more than 50 members of his family since Oct. 7.

Zyada’s planned journey to Rafah was supposed to take 20 to 30 minutes, but intense bombardment blocked several roads, forcing him and his mother to take alternative routes.

“I could not believe we would ever reach the border where we are welcomed by the paramedics and the Egyptian authorities, let alone arrive safely in the UAE,” he said.

His mother was receiving treatment at the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital, Gaza’s only cancer facility, which was damaged by Israeli strikes. She was referred to a hospital in Ramallah, but lacked the means to travel there due to the intensity of the war in Gaza.

The absence of medical care has seen her condition deteriorate, especially after the family was forced to move when their homes were flattened by airstrikes.

Zyada said his mother would not have stood a chance at survival if she was not evacuated for further treatment. “There are no hospitals or medicines. Nowhere is safe in Gaza.”

Abdelrahman Hussam Zyada recounted horrifying journey to Rafah border with his mother, a cancer patient evacuated from Gaza. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)

Amna Hashem Saeed, a pancreatic cancer patient who was also evacuated, had to bid farewell to her only daughter, who could not get through Rafah as her companion.

“My daughter remained at the border because she couldn’t immediately return home due to the intense bombing. Before I departed, she told me she was left with nothing, that she was only left to die,” Saeed recalled as she sobbed.

Saeed herself had previously failed to cross Rafah for treatment in Turkiye seven times due to the security situation. “Every time I headed to the border, I got sent back,” she said.

Her condition deteriorated when she could not receive chemotherapy, which is supposed to be repeated four times in two months. “I had no appetite to eat or sleep. I lost so much weight,” she added.

Saeed’s departure was filled with conflicted feelings. She felt relief over receiving treatment, but sadness for her husband, children and 23 grandchildren left behind in Gaza. “My husband had a stroke and he insisted I go for treatment and find happiness again. But there’s no happiness without them. I can’t imagine how my life would be without them,” she said.

Israeli offensive shifts to southern Gaza, death toll rises despite evacuation orders

Israeli offensive shifts to southern Gaza, death toll rises despite evacuation orders
Updated 6 min 26 sec ago

Israeli offensive shifts to southern Gaza, death toll rises despite evacuation orders

Israeli offensive shifts to southern Gaza, death toll rises despite evacuation orders
  • First aid trucks enter Rafah crossing to Gaza since truce collapses
  • Hamas said Saturday that 240 people had been killed in the Palestinian territory since a pause in the fighting expired on Friday

KHAN YOUNIS: Israel pounded targets in the crowded southern half of the Gaza Strip on Saturday and ordered more neighborhoods designated for attack to evacuate, driving up the death toll even as the United States and others urged it to do more to protect Gaza civilians a day after a truce collapsed.
At least 200 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting resumed Friday morning following the weeklong truce with the territory’s ruling militant group Hamas, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. Several homes were hit across Gaza on Saturday, with multiple casualties reported in a strike that flattened a multi-story building on the outskirts of Gaza City.
Separately, the ministry announced that the overall death toll in Gaza since the Oct. 7 start of the Israel-Hamas war had surpassed 15,200, a sharp jump from the previous count of more than 13,300 on Nov. 20. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it said 70 percent of the dead were women and children. It said more than 40,000 people had been wounded since the war began.
The appeal from the United States, Israel’s closest ally, to do more to protect civilians came after an air and ground offensive in the first weeks of the war devastated large areas of northern Gaza. Some 2 million Palestinians, almost Gaza’s entire population, are now crammed into the territory’s southern half.
Israel’s military said Saturday that it had hit more than 400 Hamas targets across Gaza over the past day, including more than 50 strikes in the city of Khan Younis and surrounding areas in southern Gaza.
At least nine people, including three children, were killed in a strike on a house in Deir Al-Balah city in the south, according to the hospital where the bodies were taken. The hospital also received seven bodies of others killed in overnight airstrikes, including two children.
In northern Gaza, an airstrike flattened a residential building hosting displaced families in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya on the outskirts of Gaza City. The strike left dozens dead or wounded, said residents Hamza Obeid and Amal Radwan.
“There was a loud bang, then the building turned into a pile of rubble,” Obeid said. AP video showed smoke rising from a fire as men, some in sandals, picked their way over the debris. The Israeli military confirmed it was operating in Jabaliya and said it had found and destroyed Hamas tunnels in the surrounding area.
And a powerful strike hit a cluster of multi-story buildings in Hamad City, a Qatari-funded housing development on the outskirts of Khan Younis. Huge clouds of smoke engulfed the complex. There was no immediate word on casualties,
Meanwhile, Palestinian militant groups in Gaza said they fired a barrage of rockets on southern Israel. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesperson, said Hamas had launched more than 250 rockets at Israel since the cease-fire ended.
The prospect of further cease-fires in Gaza appeared bleak, as Israel recalled its negotiators and Hamas’ deputy leader said any further exchange of prisoners would happen after the war ends. Saleh Arouri asserted to broadcaster Al-Jazeera that any remaining hostages are men, “all of whom served in the (Israeli) army.” Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told reporters that Hamas violated the agreement by refusing to return two children and 15 women it is holding.
With the resumption of fighting, the Israeli military published an online map carving up the Gaza Strip into hundreds of numbered parcels and asked residents to familiarize themselves with the number of their location ahead of evacuation warnings.
On Saturday, the military listed more than two dozen parcel numbers in areas around Gaza City in the north and east of Khan Younis. Separately, it dropped leaflets with evacuation orders over towns east of Khan Younis.
One Khan Younis resident said a neighbor received a call from the Israeli army warning that houses in the area would be hit and everyone should leave. “We told them, ‘We have nothing here, why do you want to strike it?’” said the resident, Hikmat Al-Qidra. Al-Qidra said the house was destroyed.
The maps and leaflets generated panic and confusion, especially in the crowded south. Unable to go to northern Gaza or neighboring Egypt, their only escape is to move around within the 220-square-kilometer (85-square-mile) area.
“There is no place to go,” said Emad Hajjar, who fled with his wife and three children from the north a month ago to Khan Younis. “They expelled us from the north, and now they are pushing us to leave the south.”
Amal Radwan, who sheltered in the Jabaliya refugee camp, said she wasn’t aware of such a map, adding that she and many others were not able to leave because of the bombardment.
Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said Israel was making “maximum effort” to protect civilians and the military has used leafleting, phone calls, and radio and TV broadcasts to urge Gazans to move from specific areas.
Regev added that Israel is considering a future security buffer zone that would not allow Gazans direct access to the border fence on foot, adding that Israel doesn’t plan to annex any territory from Gaza.
Israel says it targets Hamas operatives and blames civilian casualties on the militants, accusing them of operating in residential neighborhoods. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence. Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive in northern Gaza.
Also Saturday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said it had received the first convoy of aid trucks through the Rafah crossing since fighting resumed. Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority, said a convoy of 100 trucks entered Gaza, including three carrying 150,000 liters (nearly 40,000 gallons) of fuel.
“Current conditions do not allow for a meaningful humanitarian response, and I fear will spell disaster for the civilian population,” said Pascal Hundt, who is in charge of operations in Gaza for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Meanwhile, US Vice President Kamala Harris, in Dubai on Saturday for the COP28 climate conference, said in a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi that “under no circumstances” would the United States permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, the besiegement of Gaza or redrawing of its borders, according to a US summary.
Harris was expected to outline proposals with regional leaders to “put Palestinian voices at the center” of planning the next steps for Gaza after the conflict, according to the White House. President Joe Biden’s administration has emphasized the need for an eventual two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state coexisting.
The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and other militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel. Around 240 people were taken captive.
The renewed hostilities have heightened concerns for 136 hostages who, according to the Israeli military, are still held by Hamas and other militants after 105 were freed during the truce. A 70-year-old woman held by Hamas was declared dead on Saturday, according to her kibbutz, bringing the total number of known dead hostages to eight.
During the truce, Israel freed 240 Palestinians from its prisons. Most of those released by both sides were women and children.
The truce’s end also saw new activity along Israel’s northern border. Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said its fighters attacked at least five Israeli posts along the border, and Israeli forces struck several areas on the Lebanese side. There were no reports of casualties.