UAE stages challenging evacuation of Gaza patients as truce ends

Injured Palestinians and cancer patients arrive at Abu Dhabi International Airport after being evacuated from Gaza through Rafah border. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)
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Updated 04 December 2023
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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

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.

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.




Patients arrived at Al-Arish International Airport on Egyptian ambulances after being evacuated from Gaza via Rafah border. (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.


Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Updated 4 sec ago
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Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership

CAIRO: The Palestinian Authority will reconsider bilateral relations with the US after Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with the official WAFA news agency.

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

Updated 24 min 46 sec ago
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Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

  • “Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said
  • Eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid

TULKARM, Palestinian Territories: The Israeli army said Saturday that its security forces killed 10 militants in an ongoing raid around Nur Shams, a refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank.
“Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said in a statement.
The army said eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid.
An AFP journalist in nearby Tulkarem heard gunshots and blasts coming from Nur Shams on Saturday.
Residents contacted by AFP said there was a power outage and food was running short in the camp, saying nobody was allowed to enter or leave.
Since early last year violence has flared across the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967. The violence has further escalated since the war in Gaza broke out on October 7.
Israeli forces say their frequent raids in the West Bank target Palestinian militants, but civilians are often among the dead.
Around 480 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the West Bank since the Hamas assault on Israel triggered the Gaza war, according to Palestinian official sources.


Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods

Updated 20 April 2024
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Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods

  • Emirates canceled nearly 400 flights and delayed many more as a result of a record storm that hit the desert city of Dubai

RIYADH: Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates and sister airline flydubai have restored normal operations after heavy rains caused severe flooding across the United Arab Emirates earlier this week, the airlines said on Saturday.
Emirates canceled nearly 400 flights and delayed many more as a result of a record storm that hit the desert city of Dubai on Tuesday, said a statement released by the airline’s president, Tim Clark.
Due to the impact of the storm, the airline suspended check-in for passengers departing from Dubai and halted its transit operations through Dubai International Airport, a major global travel hub, leaving thousands of travelers stranded.
The airport has struggled to return to normal operations after the storm flooded taxiways, forcing flight diversions, delays and cancelations.
Flydubai also returned to its full flight schedule from the airport’s Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 on Saturday following the weather-related disruption, a spokesperson for the airline said.
Clark said Emirates had provided 12,000 hotel rooms and 250,000 meal vouchers to customers who were affected. He added it would take days to clear the backlog of rebooked passengers.
The UAE has suffered the impact of the flooding for days, with roads between the city and Abu Dhabi still partially under water as of Saturday. In Abu Dhabi, some supermarkets and restaurants faced product shortages, unable to receive deliveries from Dubai.
Researchers have linked extreme weather events such as Tuesday’s storm to climate change and anticipate that global warming will lead to higher temperatures, increased humidity and a greater risk of flooding in parts of the Gulf region.
A lack of drainage infrastructure to cope with heavy rains in countries such as the UAE can put them at particular risk of flooding.


Israeli airstrike in Rafah kills at least 9 Palestinians, including 6 children

Updated 44 min 57 sec ago
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Israeli airstrike in Rafah kills at least 9 Palestinians, including 6 children

  • Strike late Friday hit a residential building in the western Tel Sultan neighborhood of the city of Rafah

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: An Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza’s southernmost city killed at least nine people, six of them children, hospital authorities said Saturday, as Israel pursued its nearly seven-month offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory.
Israel’s war against the Islamic militant group Hamas has led to a dramatic escalation of tensions in an already volatile Middle East.
The strike late Friday hit a residential building in the western Tel Sultan neighborhood of the city of Rafah, according to Gaza’s civil defense. The bodies of the six children, two women and a man were taken to Rafah’s Abu Yousef Al-Najjar hospital, the hospital’s records showed.
At the hospital, relatives cried and hugged the bodies of the children, wrapped in white shrouds, as others comforted them.
The fatalities included Abdel-Fattah Sobhi Radwan, his wife Najlaa Ahmed Aweidah and their three children, his brother-in-law Ahmed Barhoum said. Barhoum also lost his wife, Rawan Radwan, and their 5-year-old daughter Alaa.
“This is a world devoid of all human values and morals,” Barhoum told The Associated Press Saturday morning, crying as he cradled and gently rocked the body of Alaa in his arms. “They bombed a house full of displaced people, women and children. There were no martyrs but women and children.”
No victims were registered from a second overnight strike in the city.
Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt, currently hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population of about 2.3 million people, the vast majority of whom have been displaced by fighting further north in the territory.
Despite calls for restraint from the international community, including Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States, the Israeli government has insisted for months that it intends to push a ground offensive into the city, where it says many of the remaining Hamas militants are holed up.
Such a ground operation has not materialized so far, but the Israeli military has repeatedly carried out airstrikes on and around the city.
The war was sparked by an unprecedented raid into southern Israel by Hamas and other militant groups on Oct. 7 that left about 1,200 people dead, the vast majority of them civilians, and saw about 250 people kidnapped and taken into Gaza. Israel says about 130 hostages remain in Gaza, although more than 30 have been confirmed to now be dead, either killed on Oct. 7 or having died in captivity.
The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday the bodies of 37 people killed by Israeli strikes were brought to hospitals in Gaza over the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 68 wounded, it said. The latest figures bring the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,049, and the number of wounded to 76,901, the ministry said. Although the Hamas-run health authorities do not differentiate between combatants and civilians in their count, they say at least two thirds have been children and women.
The war has sent regional tensions spiraling, leading to a dramatic eruption of violence between Israel and its archenemy Iran that threatened to escalate into a full-blown war.
On Friday, both Iran and Israel played down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran, indicating the two sides were pulling back from what could have become an all-out conflict. Over the past several weeks, an alleged Israeli strike killed two Iranian generals at an Iranian consulate in Syria and was followed by an unprecedented Iranian missile barrage on Israel.
Israel has also faced off with the Hezbollah militant group, an Iranian proxy operating from Lebanon, with the two sides there frequently trading rocket and drone attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have also joined the fray, launching strikes against merchant ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in what they say is a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.
Tension has also been high in the occupied West Bank, where an Israeli military raid Friday in the Nur Shams refugee camp killed at least four Palestinians, including three militants, according to the Israeli military, Palestinian health officials and a militant group.
Palestinian health authorities said one of those killed was a 15-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli fire. The Islamic Jihad militant group confirmed the deaths of three members, including one who it said was a local military commander. The Israeli military said four Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded in the operation.
Saraya Al-Quds, the military arm of Islamic Jihad, said its fighters had engaged in heavy gunbattles Saturday morning with Israeli forces in the town of Tulkarem, adjacent to Nur Shams. No further details were immediately available. Residents in Tulkarem went went on a general strike Saturday to protest the attack on Nur Shams, with shops, restaurants and government offices all closed.
Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, more than 460 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank, Palestinian health officials say. Israel stages frequent raids into towns and cities in the volatile territory. The dead have included militants, but also stone-throwers and bystanders. Some have also been killed in attacks by Israeli settlers.


Iran FM downplays reported Israeli retaliation

Updated 20 April 2024
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Iran FM downplays reported Israeli retaliation

  • Israeli officials have made no public comment on what happened Friday
  • Overnight last Saturday-Sunday Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory

Tehran: Iran’s foreign minister has dismissed as akin to child’s play the reported Israeli retaliation for an unprecedented Iranian strike, and said Tehran would not respond unless Iranian “interests” were targeted.
On Friday, Iran’s state media reported explosions were heard after, according to an official, small drones were successfully shot down.
Media in the United States quoted officials there as saying Israel had carried out strikes in retaliation for Tehran’s drone and missile barrage fired at Israel last weekend.
“What happened last night was no attack,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told NBC News in a Friday interview.
“It was the flight of two or three quad-copters, which are at the level of toys that our children use in Iran.”
He added that, “As long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests, we will have no response.”
Friday’s explosions prompted world leaders to appeal for calm and de-escalation with fears of wider conflict against the backdrop of the war in Gaza which began on October 7.
Overnight last Saturday-Sunday Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory. The barrage was in response to a deadly April 1 air strike on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus, which Iran blamed on Israel.
The Israeli army said the vast majority of the more than 300 missiles and drones fired by Iran were shot down — with the help of the United States and other allies — and that the attack caused only minimal damage.
Israeli officials have made no public comment on what happened Friday, and analysts said both sides are looking to de-escalate, for now.
“If the Israeli regime intends to take another action against our interests, our next response will be immediate and to the maximum,” Amir-Abdollahian said in the interview.