‘Nothing like we have seen before’: medics describe Gaza injuries on UAE evacuation flight

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Etihad Airways flight turned into “flying hospital” for Gazan patients airlifted from Egypt’s Al-Arish to Abu Dhabi for further treatment. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)
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Etihad Airways flight turned into “flying hospital” for Gazan patients airlifted from Egypt’s Al-Arish to Abu Dhabi for further treatment. (AN Photo: Mohammed Fawzy)
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Updated 06 December 2023
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‘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 ever 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 aids 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 was 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.

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 specialist, said the key aspect of his work, especially in 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.”


Hamas chief Haniyeh arrives in Turkiye for talks

Updated 15 min 21 sec ago
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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 53 min 19 sec ago
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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
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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
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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
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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.

FASTFACT

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.