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World

Trauma, injury aboard UAE flight carrying Palestinian children

Sahar Al Attar - Agence France-Presse
Trauma, injury aboard UAE flight carrying Palestinian children
Palestinians evacuated from the Gaza Strip board a plane at Egypt's El-Arish International Airport bound for Abu Dhabi early on November 27, 2023, as part of a humanitarian mission organised by the United Arab Emirates. Israel and Hamas announced a deal on November 22, allowing at least 50 hostages and scores of Palestinian prisoners to be freed while offering besieged Gaza residents a four-day truce after weeks of all-out war.
AFP / Karim Sahib

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Injured by Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, ten-year-old Mira can no longer speak or walk, a condition her sister hopes will improve with advanced treatment in a UAE hospital. 

Suffering from a brain hemorrhage and a fractured skull after a shell landed near her Gaza home last month, Mira on Sunday was stretchered aboard an Emirati evacuation plane.

She is one of 80 patients and their relatives who were airlifted to the United Arab Emirates from Egypt's El-Arish airport, near the Rafah border crossing from Gaza.

"Doctors say she needs care," said Mira's sister, Nahil, 35, who joined her on the plane. 

Sunday's evacuations marked the third batch of Palestinians transferred to the UAE since an unprecedented October 7 attack by Gaza-based Hamas militants on Israel killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. 

In reprisal, Israel vowed to destroy the militants and has hit back with a relentless air and ground offensive that has left nearly 15,000 dead in the Gaza Strip, most of them women and children, according to Gaza's Hamas government.  

The UAE is one of the few Arab states to recognise Israel, having established ties in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords. But it is at pains to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

It has dispatched a 150-bed field hospital to Gaza and has pledged to take in 2,000 Palestinians, including 1,000 children and an equal number of cancer patients, for treatment.

They all required special permits to leave Gaza, which were already difficult to obtain prior to the war.

 'Afraid of everything' 

Gaza's hospitals, poorly equipped even before, have been running out of basic supplies and are largely unable to cope with the deluge of war wounded.

The number of hospital beds in Gaza has declined from around 3,500 before the war to an estimated 1,400, and there are many more patients than beds, according to the World Health Organization. 

In northern Gaza, only four small hospitals out of 24 are estimated to be operational and admitting new patients, while eight out of 11 medical facilities in the south are still functioning, the United Nations says. 

"There are no medicines, no anaesthetic, no water, no electricity," said Nahil.

Relieved that her sister will be in good hands, Nahil is still plagued with worry for her father.

He was wounded the same day as Mira but remains hospitalised in Gaza.

The mixed sentiment is shared by most on board the evacuation flight as a four-day pause in fighting that went into force on Friday is due to expire early Tuesday.

Nouzha Fawzi, a mother of five, is among the plane's restless passengers. 

Three of her children suffer from hemophilia, an inherited blood disorder in which the blood does not clot properly, resulting in an increased risk of bleeding or bruising.

But only her seven-year-old son Yussef was cleared to go to Abu Dhabi. The rest remained behind. 

"A simple blow causes them to bleed. Imagine if they are injured," Fawzi said, her hand resting on her heart as she spoke on the plane. 

Sitting beside his mother, Yussef nervously gnawed at his nails, without saying a word. 

"He was not like that before. He was dynamic. He loved to play. Since the war, he no longer speaks much. He is afraid of everything," Fawzi said. 

Worse still, "he asks me if he will die."  

Fawzi and the rest of the passengers arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday. 

Already, many were bracing for a difficult return once their treatment is finished, saying they don't have homes to go back to. 

Of Gaza's 2.4 million people, 1.7 million are internally displaced, according to the UN.

They are crowded into makeshift shelters, including hospitals and schools, with little access to their basic needs.

"If we go back, it will be to a tent," said Asma Akram, 26, who accompanied her son Majd with leukemia.  

"We'll have to start over". 

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GAZA

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

UAE

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