Turkish authorities warn unregistered Syrians to leave Istanbul

Family and friends say goodbye as Syrian refugee voluntarily board buses returning to neighbouring Syria on August 6, 2019 in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul. (AFP)
Family and friends say goodbye as Syrian refugee voluntarily board buses returning to neighbouring Syria on August 6, 2019 in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul. (AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2023

Turkish authorities warn unregistered Syrians to leave Istanbul

Turkish authorities warn unregistered Syrians to leave Istanbul
  • The government needs ‘new strategy because current harmonization plan not paying off,’ analyst says

ANKARA: Against a backdrop of increasing anti-migrant sentiment in Turkiye, the Ministry of Interior has instructed unregistered Syrian residents of Istanbul that, unless they leave the city by Sunday Sept. 24, they will face “severe sanctions.” Syrians who had previously registered in other Turkish provinces are required to return to their original places of registration.

In recent months, Turkish authorities have intensified their efforts to crack down on illegal migrants in Istanbul, which currently hosts more than 500,000 Syrian refugees, the most of any city in Turkiye. Many of the refugees were registered in locations outside of Istanbul, but came to the city in search of employment.

Syrians who fled the provinces in which they were registered after the devastating earthquake in February and were subsequently granted travel permits to Istanbul are exempt from the ministry’s orders.

Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, noted that similar restrictive measures have been imposed in the past.

“In 2019, the Ministry of Interior told Syrian refugees who were not registered in Istanbul to return to the districts where they were initially registered,” she told Arab News. “The fact that a similar measure is now being implemented — four years later — is a sign that the earlier efforts were not successful.”

As of Sept. 14, Turkiye is home to approximately 3.2 million Syrians with temporary protection permits, down 19,100 from the previous month’s figures.

According to Adar, public pressure and its own policies mean Turkiye’s ruling government is keen to repatriate at least some of the Syrian refugees as soon as possible.

“Ankara has been trying to create a safe zone in Northern Syria,” Adar says, “while also attempting to foster a reconciliation with Bashar Assad.”

Turkish President Recep Erdogan promised ahead of elections back in May that he would repatriate a million Syrian refugees. He has also unveiled plans for the development of new residential, agricultural and industrial projects — financed by Qatar — in northwest Syria, where Turkish troops are stationed, to accommodate the resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkiye over the next three years.

This initiative — dubbed “The Aleppo Model” — will also encourage businesses in Turkish provinces bordering Syria to engage in commercial activities within Syrian safe zones, thereby generating employment opportunities for local residents. However, progress remains sluggish due to the protracted reconciliation process between Ankara and Damascus.

“Unfortunately, a Syrian’s fate relies on procedural arbitrariness,” Omar Kadkoy, a migration policy analyst at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, told Arab News. “The mere fact that a documented Syrian is present in a province other than that (in which they were initially registered) does not constitute sufficient grounds for deportation (in either) domestic or international law. The authorities, however, could arbitrarily link one’s presence outside the province of registration to other activities, like being a threat to the public, for which deportation could qualify as a legal procedure. So, an apprehended Syrian relies on luck instead of rule of law to appeal the decision.”

Official statistics show that around 554,000 Syrian refugees have returned to their homeland voluntarily, but Adar said it is difficult to discern whether they all truly chose to return, as there have been allegations of refugees being pressured to sign up for “voluntary” return, as well as reports of increased deportations. “Forced return cannot be excluded,” she said.

As many in Turkiye grow increasingly resentful of the large number of refugees in the country amid its ongoing economic crisis, Syrian refugees are once again being made scapegoats by nationalist campaigns ahead of local elections in March 2024. “Gitmeliler” (They Should Go) has been trending on social media site X.

According to analyst Kadkoy, this is a recurring theme. Similar events occurred before the local elections in 2019, he noted.

“The public are living through the effects of unorthodox monetary policy, the pandemic and the recent earthquake on the economy, and blame Syrians for the economic woes,” he said.

The government, in response, “tightens measures against Syrians as a quick relief. This is insufficient and unsustainable,” he continued.

“The local elections are six months away. We are likely to see similar measures in other provinces as well. These measures are short-term fixes.”

He said the government “must seriously discuss and work on a new strategy because the current harmonization plan is not paying off.”

The analyst added: “This is particularly important since the prospects of large-scale voluntary repatriation are rather low without political transition in Syria.”

Adar underscored the delicate balancing act the ruling Justice and Development Party faces as it attempts to address societal discontent by returning some refugees to Syria while maintaining harmonious relations with Turkiye’s Arab population.

Several Turkish journalists and a number of other citizens have been detained recently for their anti-refugee social media posts, accused of inciting hatred and hate speech. Three journalists were arrested on Saturday morning.

“Ramping up measures against Syrian refugees while simultaneously punishing anti-refugee views is a strategy aimed at appealing to various interests,” Adar said.

The recent serious assault of Kuwaiti tourist Mohammed Al-Ajmi in the northeastern city of Trabzon, which left him comatose with four broken teeth, was a reminder of rising anti-Arab sentiment in the country, stoked by the influx of Syrian refugees.



No Christmas tree in Bethlehem as holiday pared down over war

No Christmas tree in Bethlehem as holiday pared down over war
Updated 11 sec ago

No Christmas tree in Bethlehem as holiday pared down over war

No Christmas tree in Bethlehem as holiday pared down over war
  • Palestinians were in pain at the “many children, women, the elderly, the people who were martyred in this crazy war,” he said. Gazan authorities put the Palestinian death toll at more than 15,000

BETHLEHEM: There will be no Christmas tree in Bethlehem this year as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth holds pared-down celebrations “without the fanfare and too many lights” in the shadow of the Gaza war.
Bethlehem, which neighbors Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, has been battered by Israeli-Palestinian clashes of years past. But many townspeople have been especially gripped by the current conflict in the Gaza Strip, 50 km away.
Triggered by an Oct. 7 killing and kidnapping spree in southern Israel by gunmen from Hamas, the war has seen much of the impoverished enclave devastated in an Israeli counter-offensive with no end in sight.
In the early days of every December, church leaders convene in Bethlehem to inaugurate the pre-Christmas Advent season, usually a major tourist draw.

We have never seen Bethlehem like this, not even during COVID. The town is empty, sad.

Father Ibrahim Faltas

But this year, the streets and plazas of the hilly town were largely empty and somber under a dry winter sun.
“We have never seen Bethlehem like this, not even during COVID. The town is empty, sad,” Father Ibrahim Faltas, a senior Franciscan friar, told Reuters in front of the Church of the Nativity. “Today was meant to be a joyous day.”
Palestinians were in pain at the “many children, women, the elderly, the people who were martyred in this crazy war,” he said. Gazan authorities put the Palestinian death toll at more than 15,000.
A Nov. 10 statement by church heads in the Holy Land voiced sympathy for people wracked by “the uncertain fate of those dear to them” — a possible reference to families and friends of some 240 people taken hostage by Hamas.
For the first time in many residents’ memories, no Christmas tree had been erected in Nativity Square, where the church prepared to hold religious services shorn of festive events.
“We will celebrate in sobriety,” said Father Francesco Patton of the Custody of the Holy Land church group.
“That means without the fanfare and too many lights, in the most spiritual way and more (among) families than in the square.”


Released Israeli hostages call for captives to be freed

Released Israeli hostages call for captives to be freed
Updated 02 December 2023

Released Israeli hostages call for captives to be freed

Released Israeli hostages call for captives to be freed
  • Tens of thousands gathered at a rally in Tel Aviv outside Israel’s defense headquarters
  • A seven-day truce, during which Hamas had released more than 100 hostages, collapsed on Friday

TEL AVIV: Israeli hostages released in the past week by Hamas in Gaza called on Saturday for the immediate release of fellow captives left behind, a day after a temporary truce that had allowed scores to come home broke down.
Tens of thousands gathered at a rally in Tel Aviv outside Israel’s defense headquarters, where they cheered Yelena Trupanov, 50, standing on a stage just two days after being freed.
“I came to thank you because without you I wouldn’t be here. Now we must bring back my (son) Sasha, and everyone. Now.”
Similar pleas from other released hostages were shown on video.
A seven-day truce, during which Hamas had released more than 100 hostages, collapsed on Friday.
Israel said on Saturday it had recalled a Mossad intelligence agency team from Qatar, host of indirect negotiations with Hamas, accusing the Palestinian faction of reneging on a deal that would have freed all children and women held hostage.
More than 240 people — Israelis and foreign nationals — were abducted to Gaza on Oct 7. by Hamas militants who burst through the border with Israel and killed 1,200 people, according to local authorities.
Israel, vowing to wipe out Hamas, responded with a bombing campaign and ground offensive that has destroyed large areas of Gaza and killed more than 15,000 people, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave.

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 20 min 39 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.

The military said overall it hit more than 400 targets across the Gaza Strip since the end of the truce. (AP/File)

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.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

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.

Israeli soldiers work on armored military vehicles along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (AP)

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 that 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.”

Some 2 million people — almost Gaza’s entire population — poured into the territory’s south. (AP)

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: the US, among numerous allies of Israel, was urging 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.


• 170 People killed in Gaza since resumption of fighting.

• 14,800 People killed in Gaza since start of Israeli assault.

• 136 Hostages seized by Hamas on Oct. 7 still in Gaza.

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.

Residents of Hamad Town residential complex in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, sit with some of their belongings as they flee their homes after an Israeli strike. (AFP)

“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.

With 110 of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas returned, the Israeli military announced officially that the truce was broken. (AP)

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 40 min 25 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.

Prime Minister Mohamad Najib Mikati speaks at the UN climate summit in Dubai. (AFP)

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 02 December 2023

‘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.”