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Airlifting hope

AFP – 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 United Arab Emirates (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.

ABOVE & BELOW: Photos show volunteers transporting wounded Palestinian children off a plane on arrival in Abu Dhabi after being evacuated from Gaza as part of a humanitarian mission organised by the United Arab Emirates. PHOTO: AFP
ABOVE & BELOW: Palestinian children being carried off an aeroplane; and Emiratis speak with a Palestinian mother carrying her child on arrival in Abu Dhabi. PHOTO: AFP

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, 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, an aid official told AFP.

“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.”

On arrival in the morning light of Abu Dhabi, one boy with a braced and bandaged leg, and a weary expression on his face, flashes two fingers in a ‘Victory’ sign as he is carried to a waiting white ambulance.

Another young boy aged about three, clutching a white bottle of milk and with his right leg in a bandage, cries as he is pushed across the tarmac in a wheelchair.

The airlifts are among a number of humanitarian initiatives by the UAE, which is one of the few Arab states to recognise Israel and is at pains to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

The UAE has sent 51 planes carrying 1,400 tonnes of food and relief supplies as part of a USD20 million aid package, a foreign ministry statement said.

Gaza’s hospitals, already poorly equipped, have been running out of basic supplies and are largely unable to cope with the huge numbers of injuries during the ongoing war.

Hundreds of people fled on foot after Israel ordered the evacuation of Gaza’s main hospital, Al-Shifa, where it is searching for the Hamas operations centre it said lies underneath.