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

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.

Hamas chief Haniyeh arrives in Turkiye for talks

Updated 40 min 3 sec ago

Hamas chief Haniyeh arrives in Turkiye for talks

  • Fidan said he spoke with Haniyeh, who lives in Qatar, about how Hamas — designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union — “must clearly express its expectations, especially about a two-state solution”

ISTANBUL: A leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Istanbul Friday evening for talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the death toll in Gaza passed 34,000.
A statement from Hamas Friday said Erdogan and Haniyeh would discuss the conflict in Gaza, adding that the head of the group’s political bureau was accompanied by a delegation.
Middle East tensions are at a high after Israel’s reported attack on Iran and Gaza bracing for a new Israeli offensive.
Erdogan insisted on Wednesday that he would continue “to defend the Palestinian struggle and to be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people.”
But talking to journalists on Friday, he refused to be drawn on the details on the meeting.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan was in Qatar Wednesday and said he spent three hours with Haniyeh and his aides for “a wide exchange of views in particular about negotiations for a ceasefire.”
Qatar, a mediator between Israel and Hamas, acknowledged Wednesday that negotiations to end hostilities in Gaza and liberate hostages were “stalling.”
Fidan said he spoke with Haniyeh, who lives in Qatar, about how Hamas — designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union — “must clearly express its expectations, especially about a two-state solution.”
Erdogan’s last meeting with Haniyeh was in July 2023 when Erdogan hosted him and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at the presidential palace in Ankara. Haniyeh had last met Fidan in Turkiye on January 2.
The war in Gaza started after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people, mainly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel says around 129 are believed to be held in Gaza, including 34 presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory military campaign has killed at least 34,012 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.


Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, sources say

Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces advance towards the city of Tal Afar, Iraq. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 April 2024

Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, sources say

  • PMF sources said the strikes targeted a headquarters of the PMF at the Kalso military base near the town of Iskandariya around 50 km south of Baghdad

BAGHDAD: A huge blast rocked a military base used by Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to the south of Baghdad late on Friday, two PMF and two security sources told Reuters.
The two security sources said the blast was a result of an unknown airstrike, which happened around midnight Friday.
The two PMF sources pointed out the strikes did not lead to casualties but caused material damage.
PMF sources said the strikes targeted a headquarters of the PMF at the Kalso military base near the town of Iskandariya around 50 km south of Baghdad.
Government officials did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The PMF started out as a grouping of armed factions, many close to Iran, that was later recognized as a formal security force by Iraqi authorities.
Factions within the PMF took part in months of rocket and drone attacks on US forces in Iraq amid Israel’s Gaza campaign but ceased to do so in February.


Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm

Updated 19 April 2024

Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm

  • Leaders passed on their best wishes to the country as it recovers from the storms

DUBAI: The president of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, received telephone calls from King Abdullah of Jordan and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday, during which they expressed concern about the effects of the severe weather, including unusually heavy rainfall, that battered parts of the country this week.

They also passed on their best wishes to the country as it recovers from the storms and “conveyed their heartfelt hopes for the safety and prosperity of the UAE and its people, praying for their protection from any harm,” the Emirates News Agency reported.

Sheikh Mohammed thanked both leaders for their warm sentiments, and emphasized the strong bonds between the UAE and their nations.

The UAE and neighboring Oman were hit by unprecedented rainfall and flooding on Tuesday, with more than 250 millimeters of rain falling in parts of the Emirates, considerably more than is normally seen in a year. Dubai International Airport was forced to close temporarily when runways were flooded.

Peshmerga fighter dies in Turkish strike in north Iraq

Updated 19 April 2024

Peshmerga fighter dies in Turkish strike in north Iraq

JEDDAH: A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces was killed on Friday in a Turkish drone strike in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

Ankara regularly carries out ground and air operations in the region against positions of the outlawed PKK, the Kurdish separatist group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
The victim of Friday’s attack died in a drone strike on his vehicle, said Ihsan Chalabi, mayor of the mountainous Sidakan district near Iraq’s borders with Turkiye and Iran.
For decades, Turkiye has operated several dozen military bases in northern Iraq in its war against the PKK, which Ankara and its Western allies consider a terrorist group.
Both Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government have been accused of tolerating Turkiye’s military activities to preserve their close economic ties.
At the beginning of April, a man described as “high-ranking military official” from the PKK was killed in a Turkish drone strike on a car in the mountainous Sinjar region, according to the Kurdistan counterterrorism services.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Baghdad on Monday on his first official visit to Iraq since 2011.
Iraq’s Defense Minister Thabet Al-Abassi in March ruled out joint military operations against the PKK, but said that Turkiye and Iraq would “work to set up a joint intelligence coordination center.”

Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’

Updated 19 April 2024

Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’

WASHINGTON: Economies in the Middle East and North Africa face a “shadow of uncertainty” from ongoing tensions in the region, a senior IMF official said.
“We are in a context where the overall outlook is cast into shadows,” Jihad Azour, the International Monetary Fund’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia department, said in an interview in Washington.
“The shadow of uncertainty on the geopolitical side is an important one,” added Azour, a recent candidate for the next Lebanese president.
In the face of the ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Sudan and a recent cut to oil supplies by Gulf countries, the IMF has pared back its growth outlook for the Middle East and North Africa region once again.


Economic activity in Gaza has ‘come to a standstill’ and the IMF estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by six percent last year.

The IMF expects growth in MENA of 2.7 percent this year — 0.2 percentage points below its January forecast — before picking up again next year, the IMF said in its regional economic outlook report.
The risks to growth in the MENA region remain heightened, the IMF said, pointing to the danger of greater regional spillovers from the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.
“We have concerns about the immediate and lasting impact of conflict,” Azour said.
The IMF report said that economic activity in Gaza has “come to a standstill” and estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by 6 percent last year.
The IMF said the report excludes economic projections for the West Bank and Gaza for the next five years “on account of the unusually high degree of uncertainty.”
The IMF cannot lend to the West Bank and Gaza because they are not IMF member countries.
However, Azour said it has provided the Palestinian Authority and the central bank with technical assistance during the current conflict.
“When we move into the reconstruction phase, we will be part of the international community support to the region,” he added.
Azour also discussed the situation in Sudan, where thousands have been killed in a civil war that has also devastated the economy, causing it to contract by almost 20 percent last year, according to the IMF.
“The country is barely functioning, institutions have been dismantled,” he said.
“And for an economy, for a country like Sudan, with all this potential, it’s important to stop the bleeding very quickly and move to a phase of reconstruction,” he added.
The recent Houthi attacks have particularly badly hit the Egyptian economy on Red Sea shipping, which caused trade through the Egypt-run Suez Canal to more than halve — depriving the country of a key source of foreign exchange.
Egypt reached an agreement last month to increase an existing IMF loan package from $3 billion to $8 billion after its central bank hiked interest rates and allowed the pound to plunge by nearly 40 percent.
A key pillar of the current IMF program is the privatization of Egypt’s state-owned enterprises, many of which are owned by or linked to the military.
“This is a priority for Egypt,” Azour said. Egypt needs to have a growing private sector and give space for the private sector to create more jobs.”
“We have an opportunity to re-engineer the state’s role, to give the state more responsibility as an enabler and less as a competitor,” he said.