A 6-Year-Old In Gaza City Was Calling To Be Rescued. Did Anyone Find Her?

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The Washington Post

The Hamada family was trying to get to safety. An order from the Israeli military had gone out earlier on Monday, ordering them to evacuate their neighborhood in Gaza City. Bashar, 44, and his wife Anam, 43, piled four of their children and their young niece, Hind, into the car.

They would never reach their destination.

The full picture of the tragedy that befell the family remains incomplete. Some details could not be confirmed. What is beyond dispute is that their car came under fire; the parents and most of the children were killed; a 6-year-old girl begged for hours to be rescued; paramedics were dispatched; then communications were lost.

The Washington Post reconstructed the events of that day by interviewing three family members, five members of the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and reviewing audio of phone conversations between dispatchers and children in the car. The family's story is emblematic of the ongoing dangers faced by civilians in northern Gaza - even as Israel says it is winding down its military mission there - and the depth of their isolation from the outside world.

Asked for comment multiple times, the Israel Defense Forces said, "We are unfamiliar with the incident described.” The Post provided specific coordinates and additional details to the IDF on Tuesday morning and has not received a reply.

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Calls for help

In the operations room of the PRCS in Ramallah, the landline was ringing. It was 2:28 p.m. Omar al-Qam, the lone dispatcher on duty that day, picked up.

From 2,000 miles away, in Frankfurt, Germany came the steady voice of Mohammed Salem Hamada: "My family members are trapped in Gaza City,” he told Omar. "They were driving a black Kia Picanto and the car was targeted. Some of the people were killed inside.”

Mohammed gave Omar the phone number for his 15-year-old niece, Layan, who had called her uncle in southern Gaza to sound the alarm. The uncle, struggling with patchy cell service, called his cousin in Germany, hoping he could find help.

The uncle relayed what Layan had told him: The Israeli army had opened fire on the family's car. Her parents and all four of her siblings were dead - Sana, 13, Raghad, 12, Mohammed, 11 and 4-year-old Sarah.

Layan told her uncle she was bleeding. And that her cousin Hind, 6, was the only other survivor.

Omar, in Ramallah, called Layan. She sounded terrified.

"They are firing at us,” she screamed into the phone. "The tank is next to me.”

"Are you hiding?” he asked.

Then came a burst of fire. Layan screamed. The line went dead.

In shock, Omar said he went to find his colleague, Rana Faqih, in another room. He was trembling, she recalled.

Rana said she walked him back to his chair in the dispatch room and stood next to him as he dialed again.

It was Hind who answered this time.

"Are you in the car now?” he asked her.

"Yes,” came the small voice on the other end.

Rana took the phone, telling the 6-year-old she would stay on the phone until help arrived.

Hind's voice was so quiet, it was impossible to make out her reply.

"Who are you with?” Rana asked.

"With my family,” Hind told her.

Rana asked if she had tried to wake up her family. Hind responded: "I'm telling you they're dead.”

Rana asked her how the car had been hit.

"A tank,” Hind said. "The tank is next to me ... it's coming towards me ... it's very, very close.”

Rana's voice was strong and clear and reassuring. Hind's was faint and shaky. Rana urged her to keep talking. They prayed together. Rana read to her from the Quran.

Don't cry, she told the little girl, though Rana was also fighting back tears.

"Don't be scared,” she told Hind. "They're not going to hurt you. ... Don't leave the car.”

Minutes passed. Hind appeared to drop the phone. The silences were longer now.

"If I could get you out I would,” Rana said. "We're trying our very best.”

Rana was crying now, but tried to keep her voice steady.

"Please come get me,” Hind said. Again and again: "Come get me.”

There was a distant rumble of fire in the background.

"Come get me,” Hind repeated.

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An attempted rescue

Rana, 37, has been working in Crisis and Disaster Management with PRCS since 2009. She had faced situations like this before, she said, but never with a girl so young.

Her colleagues had located the car in a neighborhood near Al-Azhar University. Getting an ambulance there, inside a closed military zone, would require permission from the IDF. It was a process that involved multiple agencies, communicating on unreliable phone lines. The dispatchers knew it could take hours.

"We have received hundreds of calls from people who are trapped,” said Nebal Farsakh, a spokesperson for PRCS. "People just want help evacuating. Unfortunately we do not have safe access.”

Operators told The Post they reached out around 3 pm to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, which coordinates the safe passage of paramedics with COGAT - an arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry. Fathi Abu Warda, an adviser at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, confirmed receiving a green light from COGAT to send an ambulance to the area. COGAT did not respond to questions from The Post, referring them to the IDF.

The operators said they tried to stay focused on Hind. Nisreen Qawwas, 56, the head of PRCS's mental health department, took the lead.

"She practiced deep breathing exercises with us, and I told her we would be with her, second by second,” Nisreen recalled.

But Hind began to grow distant, Nisreen said, and hung up multiple times, growing frustrated that no one had come for her.

Eventually, operators said they reached Hind's mother, who was sheltering elsewhere in Gaza City, and patched her into the call.

"Her mother's voice made a real difference,” Nisreen said. "Every moment she said to her mother, 'I miss you momma.'”

"Her mother told her, 'You will be with me in a little while and I will hug you,'” Nisreen remembered.

The Post was not able to reach Hind's mother in Gaza City, where there is limited connectivity.

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The line goes dead

At 5:40 pm - three hours after the phone had first rung in Ramallah - the dispatchers said they got a call back from the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The ministry told them they had received permission to send paramedics to Hind. Israeli authorities had provided a map for them to follow. PRCS dispatched the nearest ambulance, 1.8 miles away, to the scene with two paramedics.

Nisreen said she tried to keep Hind engaged. They talked about the sea and the sun and her favorite chocolate cake.

But everyone could tell the little girl was fading. She said her hand was bleeding, that there was blood on her body. It was dark now. She was hungry, thirsty and cold, she told her mother.

Dispatchers said the paramedics radioed in as they neared the vehicle. The team in Ramallah encouraged them to move forward, slowly, Nisreen said.

At that moment, dispatchers said, there was "heavy gunfire.” The line with Hind was lost.

Hind's last sentence, Omar said, was "Come and take me.”

That was at 7 pm on Monday. There has been no word from Hind or the ambulance crew since.


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