How displaced Palestinians are adjusting to life in Egypt after escaping beleaguered Gaza

Displaced Palestinian women and gather on a sand dune above a makeshift camp on the Egyptian border, west of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 14, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 31 March 2024
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How displaced Palestinians are adjusting to life in Egypt after escaping beleaguered Gaza

  • They describe financial troubles, post-traumatic stress, and survivor’s guilt since reaching safety of Cairo
  • They fear for friends and family still trapped inside the embattled enclave amid violence and looming famine

CAIRO: Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire between Israeli troops and Hamas militants are finding ways to cross from Gaza into Egypt to escape the prolonged conflict. Once there, however, many grapple with financial hardship, survivor’s guilt and intense trauma.

Despite mounting international pressure, Israel has ignored repeated calls for a ceasefire and pleas to permit more aid by road to enter the enclave. The death toll has now exceeded 32,000, with children making up more than 40 percent of those killed, according to local health officials.

Among those who managed to escape in recent weeks the beleaguered territory long controlled by Hamas for the safety of Egypt is Anas, a 23-year-old Palestinian who now resides in a small two-bedroom house in Cairo with his relatives.




Displaced Palestinians talk to Egyptian soldiers at the border fence between Gaza and Egypt, on February 16, 2024 in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (AFP/File)

Speaking to Arab News at a coffee house in Dokki, a residential neighborhood on the west bank of the Nile, Anas, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, recalled his family’s displacement shortly after the war began on Oct. 7.

“We were displaced so many times,” he said. “At one point we were forced to take shelter at a school in the area called Awda.” It was there that Israeli troops began rounding up military-aged men and boys for questioning.

“Not only were they keen on killing us, they wanted to humiliate us as well,” said Anas.

“They were not following any rules. The investigations and their results were based on their whims. I saw men stripped down to their underwear with their eyes blindfolded. A lot of them I recognized as grocers, friends and neighbors. These were not militants, but that did not matter to the Israelis.

“They were taken into tents where the alleged investigation was happening and I could hear their screams resulting from what I can only deduce was torture.”




A Palestinian boy looks for cartons to make a fire in the Rafah refugee camp on March 21, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Despite his fears about what might happen to him at the hands of his interrogators and amid the death and destruction around them, Anas said he felt duty bound to protect his 13-year-old brother, Mohammad, who had been injured in a bombing raid.

“All I could think of is how to get my brother proper care,” he said. “The house we were staying in at some point got bombed. I lost two friends and a cousin. My father got hit. He still carries the shrapnel. And my little brother’s leg got severely injured.

“I ran with him to the European Hospital in Gaza, but it was so chaotic there — hundreds of injured and a small medical team doing their best in a half-functional hospital.”

INNUMBERS

1.7 million Displaced in Gaza. (UN estimate)

70,000+ Housing units destroyed in Gaza (MoPWH)

32,300+ Reported killed. (MoH Gaza)

74,690+ Reported injured. (MoH Gaza)

The European Hospital in southern Khan Younis was initially intended to treat up to 240 people. However, since the conflict began, it has been overwhelmed by thousands of patients each day, its corridors and grounds packed with displaced Palestinians.

The health system in Gaza has all but collapsed. According to a statement in February from the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, just 12 hospitals remained partially functional, while some 123 ambulances had been destroyed.




This photo taken on February 29, 2024 shows displaced Palestinian children, including a 10-year-old with a pre-existing condition, at Al-Awda clinic in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. The boy died on March 4, 2024 from severe malnourishment and insufficient healthcare with the lack of needed medication and severe malnutrition as living conditions in the besieged Palestinian territory deteriorate. (AFP)

“We knew we couldn’t treat Mohammad adequately and we knew our father’s condition may turn into an infection, so we made a collective decision to go to Egypt,” said Anas.

The family paid thousands of dollars to an agent to orchestrate their crossing into Egypt via Rafah. Mohammad, meanwhile, was taken to Qatar to receive medical treatment, sponsored by the Qatari government.

“I felt so relieved when I found out his leg did not need amputation,” said Anas. “That’s my baby brother. If I needed to, I would have chopped off my own leg if it meant healing him.”

Although he is now safe and able to sleep soundly in a bed without fear of bombardment and further displacement, Anas said he still has difficulty sleeping.




Some Palestinians fleeing Israeli bombardment in Gaza have managed to enter Egypt but at great risk and expense, according to some refugees. (AFP/File)

“I remember the sounds of the screams coming from the investigation tents. I remember the wailing of families at the hospital. I remember the chaos and I don’t think it will ever leave me,” he said.

“I feel guilty being here knowing so many of my friends are gone or still stuck in hell.”

Anas is not alone among those Palestinians who managed to escape Gaza in having to grapple with what psychologists refer to as survivor’s guilt — a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We knew on Oct. 7 that things were going to go bad, but we did not expect this level of cruelty and savagery,” Omar, a 40-year-old engineer, told Arab News at his new home in Cairo, where he and his surviving daughters are hosted by an Egyptian family.




Dual nationality holders are among the few fleeing violence in from Gaza to be allowed to enter Egypt through the Rafah border crossing. (AFP)

According to Omar, whose name has also been changed to protect his identity, many families in Gaza make the difficult decision to live in separate places to improve the chances of at least some of them surviving a bombardment.

However, Omar and his family chose to stick together. “If death was coming, it will be coming for us all,” he said. “It took the best of me instead.

“My parents, my brothers, their wives and their children, my sons, my daughters, my wife and I were staying together. A rocket fell and by the grace of God I was standing in the corner, which probably saved my life.”

As the dust began to settle, Omar called out to his family. “But it was mainly silence. Through the ringing in my ears it was deafening silence,” he said.

“I lost everyone except my daughters and my sisters. I gathered my sons’ limbs, piece by piece, meat by meat, to reassemble them again. I wanted to give them a proper burial, but I was deprived of that, too.”




Israeli troops stand guard near Egyptian trucks bringing in humanitarian aid supplies to the Gaza Strip, on the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Palestinian territory on February 6, 2024, as right-wing Israeli protesters gather to block the trucks from entering. (AFP)

Omar’s sisters begged him to find the means to move what remained of the family out of Gaza. Like Anas and his family, Omar was able to raise enough money to pay an agent to help them reach Egypt.

However, Omar says one of his sisters and her children were left behind after the agent left her name off the list presented to guards at the Rafah border crossing.

“I am physically here but my heart is in Gaza,” said Omar. “I cannot stop thinking about my sister and her children. I can’t eat or sleep properly. And I have no idea when she’ll be evacuated.”

He added: “Not only am I left with a huge debt, but also a survivor’s guilt I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake off.”




Egyptian paramedics transport an injured Palestinian child to a Red Crescent ambulance upon his arrival from Gaza via the Rafah border crossing, on January 10, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

And although he is grateful to have been taken in by his Egyptian hosts, Omar says he feels like a “fish out of water” since leaving Gaza.

“While I am grateful to my Egyptian hosts, I feel stranded and confused,” he said. “My land is gone. I have nothing to return to. Entire neighborhoods have been leveled.

“I am haunted by my previous life, the sound of my wife’s laughter, my sons’ gleeful screams as they played. I feel soulless now. But I have to remain stoic for my daughters and my sisters. I am the only man left from the family. Their husbands have been arrested and we don’t know whether they are dead or alive.

“But after so much suffering, grace must come. God’s justice will not have it any other way.”
 

 


Iran to hold presidential election on June 28: state media

Updated 5 sec ago
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Iran to hold presidential election on June 28: state media

The election calendar was approved at the meeting of the heads of the judiciary, government, and parliament

TEHRAN: Iran announced Monday it will hold presidential elections on June 28, state media reported, following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi and his entourage in a helicopter crash.
“The election calendar was approved at the meeting of the heads of the judiciary, government, and parliament,” state television said.
“According to the initial agreement of the Guardian Council, it was decided that the 14th presidential election will be held on June 28.”

US says Houthis fired ballistic missile over Gulf of Aden

Updated 20 May 2024
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US says Houthis fired ballistic missile over Gulf of Aden

  • “This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners,” CENTCOM said
  • The Houthis did not claim credit for any fresh assaults on Monday, but they regularly do days later

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia launched a ballistic missile over the Gulf of Aden on Sunday, the US military said.
This comes as the Houthis intensified attacks on Yemeni government soldiers around the country.
The US military said in a statement on Monday morning Yemen time that at about 9:35 p.m. (Sanaa time) on Sunday, the Houthis launched one anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen over the Gulf of Aden, but neither the US-led coalition nor international commercial ships reported being hit by the missile.
“This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” CENTCOM said.
The Houthis did not claim credit for any fresh assaults on Monday, but they regularly do days later.
The Houthis’ newest missile launch is part of an escalation of missile and drone strikes against commercial and navy ships in international seas near Yemen as well as in the Indian Ocean, which the Houthis claim are in support of Palestine.
The Houthis attacked dozens of ships with hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and drone boats during their campaign against ships, which started in November.
They also took control of one commercial ship and destroyed another.
The US military said on Saturday that a Greek-owned and operated oil tanker heading toward China in the Red Sea, flying the flag of Panama, barely avoided being struck by a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis.
Meanwhile, four Yemeni government troops were killed on Monday while battling the Houthis in the province of Taiz, bringing the total number of soldiers killed in Houthi attacks to 11 in less than a week.
Local media said that the government’s Nation’s Shield Forces engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis in the Hayfan area, on the border between Taiz and Lahj provinces, that left four of its soldiers dead.
On Saturday, a soldier from the same Yemeni military unit was killed and another injured while defending their position in Haydan against a Houthi onslaught.
Six more Yemeni soldiers from the government’s Giants Brigades were killed on Saturday in fighting with the Houthis in the Al-Abadia region of Marib’s central province.
On Monday, the Houthis held a military burial procession in Sanaa for two of their troops killed while battling with Yemeni government forces.
The Houthis have organized similar funerals for hundreds of fighters who have died on the front lines ever since the UN-brokered ceasefire came into effect in April 2022.
At the same time, official media said that Yemen’s Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Mohsen Al-Daeri met the UN Yemen envoy’s military adviser, General Antony Hayward, in Aden on Sunday to discuss Houthi attacks on government troops across the country, peace efforts to end the war, and the smuggling of Iranian weapons to the Houthis.
Al-Daeri said that the Houthis had breached agreements with the Yemeni government and would continue to pose a danger to international maritime lines as long as they controlled Yemeni territory on the Red Sea.
He also accused Iran of continuing to supply weapons and military officers to the Houthis through direct journeys from Iran’s Bandar Abbas port to the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port.
On Monday, UN experts, including Nazila Ghanea, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, urged the Houthis to release five members of the Bahai religious minority and to stop persecuting religious minorities in regions they control.
“We urge the de facto authorities to release these five individuals immediately and refrain from any further action that may jeopardize their physical and psychological integrity,” the experts said.
Armed Houthis abducted 17 Bahais, including five women, after bursting into a meeting in Sanaa a year ago, and they have refused to release them despite local and international requests.
According to the UN experts, the Houthis released 12 Bahais under “very strict conditions” after signing a written pledge not to communicate with other sect members, avoid religious activities and not leave cities without permission, and that the Houthis continue to hold five who are at risk of mistreatment by their captors.
“We are concerned that they continue to be at serious risk of torture and other human rights violations, including acts tantamount to enforced disappearance,” the UN experts said.


Egypt mourns death of Iran’s president

A person walks past a banner with a picture of the late Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on a street in Tehran, Iran May 20, 2024.
Updated 20 May 2024
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Egypt mourns death of Iran’s president

  • The Egyptian president expressed Egypt’s solidarity with the leadership and people of Iran during this tragic time

CAIRO: Egypt mourned the deaths of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Egypt’s presidency said in a statement: “It is with deep grief and sorrow that the Arab Republic of Egypt mourns the death of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and their escorts on Sunday in a tragic crash.

“President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi extends his sincere condolences to the people of Iran, asking Allah to envelop President Raisi and the deceased with his mercy and grant solace and comfort to their families.”

The Egyptian president expressed Egypt’s solidarity with the leadership and people of Iran during this tragic time.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry extended his condolences to the Iranian government and people over the deaths of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian, according to ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid.

A helicopter carrying Raisi, Amir-Abdollahian, and several other officials crashed in mountainous terrain in the country’s northwest on Sunday. On Monday, Tehran announced the deaths of Raisi, Amir-Abdollahian, and their accompanying delegation in the crash.

 


Israel calls ICC prosecutor’s bid for PM arrest warrant a ‘historical disgrace’

Updated 20 May 2024
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Israel calls ICC prosecutor’s bid for PM arrest warrant a ‘historical disgrace’

  • Katz denounced the move as a “scandalous decision” that amounted to “a frontal attack... on the victims of October 7“
  • The minister added that Israel would establish a special committee to fight the ICC prosecutor’s efforts to secure a warrant

JERUSALEM: Israel on Monday slammed as a “historical disgrace” an application by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The prosecutor, Karim Khan, applied for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as well as top Hamas leaders on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that Khan “in the same breath mentions the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense of the State of Israel alongside the abominable Nazi monsters of Hamas — a historical disgrace that will be remembered forever.”
The prosecutor said he was seeking warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant for crimes including “wilful killing,” “extermination and/or murder” and “starvation.”
Katz denounced the move as a “scandalous decision” that amounted to “a frontal attack... on the victims of October 7” when Hamas launched their attack on Israel, sparking the Gaza war.
The minister added that Israel would establish a special committee to fight the ICC prosecutor’s efforts to secure a warrant, and also embark on a diplomatic push against it.
Katz said he planned to “speak with foreign ministers in leading countries of the world so that they oppose the prosecutor’s decision and announce that, even if orders are issued, they do not intend to enforce them on the leaders of the State of Israel.”


35,562 Palestinians killed in Gaza offensive since Oct. 7 — health ministry

Updated 20 May 2024
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35,562 Palestinians killed in Gaza offensive since Oct. 7 — health ministry

  • 106 Palestinians were killed and 176 injured in the past 24 hours

DUBAI: More than 35,562 Palestinians have been killed and 79,652 injured in the Israeli military offensive on Gaza since Oct. 7, the Gaza health ministry said in a statement on Monday.
One hundred and six Palestinians were killed and 176 injured in the past 24 hours, the ministry added.