Gaza girl emerges from rubble days after Israeli raid killed family

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Palestinians walk past the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 6, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (Photo by AFP)

Tears in his eyes, Mohammed al-Sabbagh shouts into a mobile phone, imploring his niece on the other end to “be strong” as she languishes under rubble in Gaza.

The call was made near the start of a three-day ordeal for the girl, 15-year-old Hala Hazem Hamada, who was finally rescued on Tuesday after a deadly encounter with Israeli soldiers that claimed the lives of six relatives including her parents.

The bloodshed began on Saturday, when Israeli troops descended on the residential complex where Hala’s family, originally from northern Gaza, had sought refuge outside the territory’s southern city of Khan Yunis.

The Israeli military had said it was raiding “terrorist infrastructure” in the area and taking suspected “terrorists” into custody.

Hala told AFP that soldiers had called out on a loudspeaker asking residents to leave, but before she and her family could do so, “the house started collapsing on us”, levelled by bulldozers.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

“Snipers targeted everyone in the family except my sister and me,” she said.

“My sister Basant told me, ‘I’m scared, save me. I can’t move. The rubble is on my feet, and my father is on my leg. I can’t move’.”

Then Basant went silent, leaving Hala alone to wait out the long hours before her rescue. Basant, 19, was among the six dead.

– ‘We’re trying to reach you’ –

Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.

The retaliatory Israeli campaign has killed at least 30,717 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

As Hala waited, an AFP journalist filmed Mohammed al-Sabbagh offering words of support over the phone.

“Stay safe and stay strong. If there is something around you, eat it to keep you steadfast until we reach you,” he said.

“I swear to God, we don’t know how to reach you… (but) we’re trying to reach you. Don’t worry, we will come to you.”

The updates from Hala were grim.

“My father is covered in blood. He was breathing but not anymore,” she said.

On Wednesday, Hala described her rescue, speaking to AFP from a hospital bed in the southernmost city of Rafah.

“They started removing the debris and cutting the iron bars until they pulled me out. When they pulled me out, they put me on a stretcher,” she said.

Though she suffered no major injuries, she was trying to recover physically after so much time without food or water, while also grappling with the massive trauma and loss she experienced.

“I survived, but I want to see my family for the last time,” she said.

“I saw my sister and father, but they have not been pulled out yet. They are still under the rubble. I want to see them to at least say goodbye.”

AFP, TOE

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