News

Gaza girl, 6, missing along with rescuers after car comes under fire

By AFP

February 6, 2024 10:00 AM


Hind Rajab

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The last time six-year-old Hind Rajab was heard from, she was surrounded by dead relatives and trapped in the family's car after it came under fire in war-ravaged Gaza City.

"She was scared, freaking out, and was wounded in her back, her hand and her foot," said her grandfather, Baha Hamada, one of the last people to speak to the girl on the phone.

"She kept asking me to come and get her," Hamada added, weeping uncontrollably as he recalled the heart-wrenching call.

Gaza City has been devastated by fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas since war broke out nearly four months ago. Dead bodies decay on the streets and under the bombed-out buildings.

The city has been largely cut off from the south of the besieged territory for weeks, with the United Nations repeatedly protesting insurmountable difficulties for aid to reach the hundreds of thousands of people estimated to remain in the Gaza Strip's northern areas.

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Hind was with Hamada's brother Bashar, his sister-in-law and other children in the car as they attempted to flee from approaching Israeli forces in Gaza City's Tel al-Hawa area a week ago.

But, Hamada said, they ended up in the paths of Israeli tanks and were fired on.

He said he was initially able to reach Bashar's daughter Layan, who told him that her parents and her three brothers were killed, and that she and Hind were alive.

"We tried to calm her down and told her we would call an ambulance," said the 58-year-old.

But when rescuers from the Palestinian Red Crescent spoke to 15-year-old Layan on the phone, they said they were cut off from the call by what sounded like gunfire.

Both Hamada and the organisation say Layan was killed in the shooting.

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- Israeli tanks 'coming closer' -

"While the ambulance was heading there, Hind's mother was talking to her on the phone. The girl told her mother she could see the ambulance, her mother heard the sound of the car door opening, then lost connection," Hamada told AFP.

They haven't heard from her or the Red Crescent ambulance crew that was deployed to save her since.

The Red Crescent said Monday on social media that the fate of the team, "Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al-Madhoon, who went to rescue 6-year-old Hind Rajab, remains unknown for seven days".

It called on "the international community to intervene immediately to pressure the (Israeli) occupying authorities to disclose the fate of Hind and the rescue team".

Contacted by AFP, the Israeli military did comment on the incident.

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Hamada, himself displaced in the southern city of Rafah, said: "We want to know her fate, whatever it was. I can't imagine her, between the bodies, without eating or drinking and in the extreme cold. Dogs and cats are eating the corpses."

The majority of those killed in Gaza since early October have been civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Israel's devastating air, sea and land offensive has killed at least 27,478 people in Gaza, according to the latest ministry toll.

The war was sparked by Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

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Apart from Hamada's brother and sister-in-law, five children aged four to 15 were crammed into the car. His three-year-old grandson and the boy's parents remain stuck in Gaza City.

"Hind is my first grandchild, she's a piece of my heart," said Hamada.

In a series of photos he showed AFP, the child poses for the camera, smiling in brightly-coloured party clothes.

Unable to hold back his tears, Hamada recalled the final moments speaking to his granddaughter.

"She was telling me that she was scared and hungry, asking us to go and rescue her. She was telling me the tanks were coming closer."


AFP


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