Clutching a blown-up surgical glove as a makeshift toy, a Palestinian child is stretchered onto a plane to Abu Dhabi -– one of the Gaza war’s first evacuees to the United Arab Emirates for urgent medical treatment.
In the dead of night at Egypt’s El Arish airport, near the Rafah border crossing from Gaza, the child is carried carefully from the back of one of six yellow ambulances waiting near the runway, blue lights flashing.
A hydraulic platform lifts the wheeled stretchers into the back of a plane until eight children in various stages of injury and distress, some accompanied by relatives, are aboard.
These are the lucky ones, spirited away from the dangers and trauma of the Israel-Hamas war to quiet, well-equipped hospitals in Abu Dhabi, capital of the oil-rich UAE.
After Hamas gunmen attacked Israel on October 7 and killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, Israel vowed to destroy the militants and has hit back with a punishing air and ground offensive that has left 12,000 dead in the Gaza Strip, according to Hamas.
Five thousand children are among Gaza’s dead, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory — an average of about 122 a day — and 30,000 people have been wounded.
The initial group of evacuated children, who arrived in Abu Dhabi early on Saturday, are the first of an expected 1,000 who will be airlifted to the UAE for medical help.
Among the children, one has a fractured spine and another a broken leg. Others have burns, and one needs urgent treatment for cancer.
Two more with severe injuries did not board and were expected to join the next flight. The humanitarian airlifts for children could now happen daily,
– ‘Losing lives’ –
“We would like to carry out daily evacuations because there are injured people, hospitals out of service, and a shortage of medicines,” said Mohammed Al Kaabi from the Emirates Red Crescent humanitarian organisation, describing the situation in Gaza as “catastrophic”.
“God willing, during the next week we will have evacuated whomever we can, because time is precious and there are lives we are losing.”