Lebanon rescues Syrians in sinking migrant boat

Lebanon rescues Syrians in sinking migrant boat
The Lebanese army and the country's civil defense recused more than a few dozen migrants whose boat was sinking off the coast of north Lebanon, the military said in a statement. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2023

Lebanon rescues Syrians in sinking migrant boat

Lebanon rescues Syrians in sinking migrant boat
  • A military official, who requested anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the press, told AFP the migrants were all Syrian
  • Migrants seeking to reach Europe from Lebanon generally head for the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus 175 kilometers away

BEIRUT: The Lebanese military on Saturday rescued 27 Syrian migrants from drowning after their rubber boat capsized off the country’s northern coast, the armed forces said.
The navy, with support from the civil defense, “was able to rescue 27 illegal migrants aboard a rubber boat that was sinking off the Chekka coast,” an army statement said.
A military official, who requested anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the press, told AFP the migrants were all Syrian.
Migrants seeking to reach Europe from Lebanon generally head for the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus 175 kilometers (110 miles) away.
Also on Saturday, security forces said they arrested a Lebanese people smuggler and 42 Syrians as he was in a vehicle “filled with a large number of Syrians.”
Police said the driver confessed planning to smuggle them by boat to Cyprus.
The would-be migrants said during questioning they had paid between $5,000 and $7,000 a head to reach Europe via Cyprus, the statement added.
“We have been trying to stop them on land before they leave by sea,” a security source told AFP, again requesting anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to journalists.
On Thursday, the army said it had prevented around 1,000 illegal crossings of Lebanon’s porous border with Syria this week.
The military regularly thwarts smuggling operations by sea and arrests both smugglers and would-be migrants.
Lebanon’s economy collapsed in late 2019, turning the country into a launchpad for migrants, with Lebanese joining Syrians and Palestinian refugees making perilous voyages toward Europe.
The authorities in Beirut say Lebanon currently hosts around two million Syrians, while more than 800,000 are registered with the United Nations — the world’s highest number of refugees per capita.
The war in Syria that erupted in 2011 after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests has killed more than half a million people and displaced around half of the pre-war population.

Can US compel Israel to prioritize civilian protection and aid as Gaza truce gives way to renewed hostilities?

Can US compel Israel to prioritize civilian protection and aid as Gaza truce gives way to renewed hostilities?
Updated 10 sec ago

Can US compel Israel to prioritize civilian protection and aid as Gaza truce gives way to renewed hostilities?

Can US compel Israel to prioritize civilian protection and aid as Gaza truce gives way to renewed hostilities?
  • Israeli government faces pressure from Washington to have “clear plan” to protect civilians, avoid displacement and damage
  • War scholars say goal of destroying Hamas unrealistic, may prove impossible without very high civilian toll

LONDON: Just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel to prioritize civilians in its campaign against the Palestinian group Hamas, the Israeli military marked the end of a fragile truce in the Gaza Strip with renewed aerial bombardment.

By Saturday morning, 200 Palestinians had been killed, according to Hamas-run health ministry officials, as Israeli forces launched attacks on the Khan Younis area in southern Gaza, where it claimed to have targeted more than 50 Hamas sites.

The military said overall it hit more than 400 targets across the Gaza Strip, including strikes in the north, which suggested that no place in the besieged enclave was safe anymore.

Some 2 million people — almost Gaza’s entire population — poured into the territory’s south after Israel asked Palestinian civilians to relocate from other places at the military campaign’s start.

The question many were asking on Saturday was whether the Israel War Cabinet would heed the call of America’s top diplomat to have “a clear plan in place” for protecting civilians and avoid further mass displacement and damage to critical infrastructure, like hospitals, power stations and water facilities.

Blinken’s comments, meant perhaps to shield the Biden administration from fresh criticism both at home and abroad, have left opinions divided among experts in war studies and geopolitics.

Tobias Borck, senior research fellow for Middle East security at RUSI, suspects that world leaders knew what was coming next after hearing those words, spoken to reporters in Jerusalem and Dubai.

“Blinken’s comments were made in anticipation of the truce coming to an end. This was the sense in Washington but also among the mediators, Egypt and Qatar,” he told Arab News.

“The option of a permanent ceasefire just did not seem viable to the Israeli government, which still felt it had a lot to do militarily. So, for Blinken the objective was to frame what came next, and was intended to show that the US was repositioning itself and making clear what its expectations were.”

Initially pegged as a four-day humanitarian pause to allow for the exchange of hostages by Hamas for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including many minors held in Israeli prisons without trial, the ceasefire lasted a week thanks to two extensions brokered by Qatar and Egypt.

After the end of the truce, militants in Gaza resumed firing rockets into Israel, and fighting also broke out between Israel and Hezbollah militants operating along its northern border with Lebanon, according to an Associated Press report.

With 110 of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas returned, the Israeli military announced officially that the truce was broken, saying it had intercepted rockets fired from Gaza a little after 6 a.m. on Friday morning.

The military subsequently dropped leaflets in densely populated parts of southern Gaza urging residents to leave, indicating an imminent widening of the offensive, and noting that Khan Younis was a “dangerous battle zone.”

As per reports, Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that were fighting to continue, Israel would need to find more effective measures for protecting civilians.

This meant acting in “compliance with international humanitarian law” and provision of “every possible measure to avoid civilian harm.” He also emphasized the need for “sustaining and building on humanitarian assistance getting to Gaza.”

While criticizing Hamas for a deadly attack in occupied Jerusalem on Thursday and the renewed rocket strikes, Blinken alluded to the leaflets and Israel’s publishing of an interactive map detailing safe sites for civilians to relocate to.

Released on social media and in Arabic, the Israeli military tweeted that the map “divides the territory of Gaza into zones according to recognizable areas. This enables the residents of Gaza to orient themselves and to evacuate from specific places for their safety if required.”

Sources linked to aid efforts in Gaza, however, rubbished the idea, one telling Arab News aid blockages probably meant little fuel was available, leaving most people unable to charge devices to even see such a map.

Borck said a central problem when it came to the protection of civilians concerned merging of the political objective, “namely, destroying Hamas,” with the military objective, and in turn trying to ascertain whether there was a wider strategy beyond this.

“The purported aim, destroying Hamas, is a pretty maximalist one, both in the political sense and the military sense,” he said.

“But you must ask what it means by destroying Hamas. Does the killing of Mohammed Deif and Yahiya Sinwar, the two considered to have masterminded the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, achieve the objective? If so, you need look only to the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for a potential time scale.”

Oubai Shahbandar, a former Middle East defense adviser at the Pentagon, believes that in seeking to achieve its stated objective, Israel’s military will not be satisfied with simply “decapitating” the Hamas leadership hierarchy.

Rather, the intention is likely to ensure that Hamas’ capacity to put up any major asymmetrical military challenge is “totally degraded.” However, he said such a course of action was likely to play into Hamas’ hands.

“Sinwar probably had no illusions about the Israeli response to what happened on Oct. 7,” Shahbandar said.

“There aren’t any real signs that Netanyahu is going to seriously curtail the scope of airstrikes, artillery strikes and infantry assaults into southern Gaza to match the requests coming from the Biden White House.”

President Biden himself warned in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas it would be smart were Israel to learn from the mistakes the US had made in hunting the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

That warning, though, had another meaning for Borck: that the US, among numerous allies of Israel, was warning Netanyahu to think about “the day after Day 1,” specifically about where it wanted to be when the war ended, adding this was pivotal for Gaza’s civilian population.

Michael Pregent, a former US intelligence officer and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said Blinken’s demands were not a “serious ask” but reflected the opinion of a swathe of the international community.

He argues that there is a certain impossibility in minimizing civilian casualties, adding that Hamas is following a playbook he saw in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, where groups with similar ideologies “invited civilian death” as it earned them capital in the international news media.

He also noted that in response to similar tactics adopted by Daesh in Iraq, the US itself ended up decimating more than 80 percent of the city of Mosul in its nine-month campaign to rout the militants beginning in October 2016.

Asked whether greater thought ought to be put into forging strategies in response to attacks like that of Oct. 7, and in general the threat posed by Hamas and its militant allies to both Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike, Pregent said one option was to exhort the people of Gaza to reject Hamas. But history showed that it did not work, he said.

“One need only look at Afghanistan, where the Taliban is back. Groups such as the Taliban and Hamas are familiar with the precedents. They tell civilians, ‘You support an uprising, but our opponents will eventually leave and we will still be here. And when they go, we will be back and we will kill you and your whole family.’”

Significantly, during his meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken said the US remained committed to supporting Israel’s right to self-defense and assured him that he could count on US support.

The Biden administration has rejected calls for a long-term ceasefire and backed Israel’s fight to remove Hamas from power in Gaza with no “red lines” as it were that would trigger US penalties.

Despite the US emphasis on protection of civilians, the Wall Street Journal reported that Washington had disclosed little about how many and what types of weapons it had sent to Israel during the Gaza conflict.

“The arsenal of artillery, bombs and other weapons and military gear that have been used by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya, among other places, usually target large groups of gathered enemy forces. In Gaza, by contrast, Israel is battling militants who are among civilians in dense urban environments,” the report said.

Against this backdrop, Shahbandar said history had repeatedly shown that Israel’s only realistic chance of dismantling Hamas as a military and political entity would not be found in the use of force.

“The way for Israel to achieve its aim is by helping to empower a Palestinian alternative to Hamas with real legitimacy,” he said. “But there seems very little appetite in the Netanyahu administration to pursue such a path.”

On Saturday, the International Rescue Committee, an aid group operating in Gaza, said the return of renewed fighting would “wipe out even the minimal relief” provided by the truce and “prove catastrophic for Palestinian civilians.”

Before the temporary truce took effect on Nov. 24, more than 13,300 Palestinians had been killed in Israel’s assault, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Gaza health officials.

The renewal of hostilities has also heightened concerns for the 136 Israelis and foreigners who are still held captive by Hamas and other militant groups.

Although little optimism concerning the fate of Gazans can be discerned in the immediate term, Borck said he saw a “sliver” of it in the future.

Whereas the prevailing logic had been that the Middle East conflict could at best be “managed,” the past 54 days had “thoroughly dispelled that notion,” with governments in Washington, Paris and London, as well as Tel Aviv and Ramallah conscious now that it needed to end.

“Because of this recognition, I have been left slightly more confident we’ll see a resumption of work toward the two-state process,” Borck said.

“Look at the comments from Kier Starmer (UK opposition leader and odds-on favorite to win the next election) when he said Europe and the UK had given up on seeking peace in the Middle East because they felt it was too intractable.

“You sense, were he to become prime minister, this may lead to a change but, of course, he’s not as important as the person in the White House.”

Asked what he thought the agenda would be for the US when this war ends, Borck said that if Donald Trump returned, “all bets were off,” but were Biden to remain, he expected a greater focus on seeking peace, bringing the biggest win to Gaza’s embattled population.

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 9 min 19 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 38 min 54 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 12 min 46 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 59 min 57 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.