Gaza Strip — Ismail Al-Fajm is relieved that his nephew, seven-year-old Salem Sammour, is among the 81 wounded Palestinians who could cross over on Wednesday from the besieged Gaza Strip into Egypt from the Rafah crossing.
Sammour had lost his father and other family members in an air raid a little over two weeks ago. The young boy’s body is riddled with shrapnel that has cut off part of his flesh, and left him writhing and screaming in pain. Meanwhile, his mother needs treatment for her own injuries.
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“The medical capabilities in Gaza are limited, and the doctors weren’t able to deal with the child’s condition,” says the uncle as he tries to calm Sammour, while preparing him to leave Nasser Hospital in Gaza’s southern city of Khan Younis. “His treatment in Egypt represents hope and an opportunity for him to live.”
On Wednesday, the staff of Nasser Hospital — and families — were busy assisting 19 patients as they boarded ambulance vehicles that ushered them to the Rafah crossing.
After weeks of negotiations, Qatar finally succeeded in brokering the limited evacuation of the first group of injured from Gaza into Egypt, where rows of ambulance vehicles were waiting to take them to hospitals across the Sinai Peninsula.
“I hope this is just the beginning. I do pray that all the wounded get the help they need. May this not be a one-off thing,” says Al-Fajm.
Since the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 that left 1,400 people dead, Israel has bombarded Gaza, killing more than 8,700 people, including over 3,000 children. Israel has threatened or actually attacked several hospitals and medical facilities, where it accuses Hamas of hiding bases and missile facilities. More than a dozen of Gaza’s hospitals are out of operation, with others struggling to function amid a shortage of fuel because of Israel’s total blockade on the enclave.
‘I’ll walk again’
Pushed onto a wheelchair not far from Sammour, 10-year-old Aseel Al-Astal smiles, then winces in pain, only to smile again. She has lost more than 15 of her relatives in Israeli bombing, and has multiple fractures herself. Her face is covered with cuts. As she is helped aboard an ambulance that will take her to Rafah, she raises her fingers to signal victory, and speaks with joy about the possibility of being healed.
“I am very happy because I can be treated and be able to walk again,” she says. Pointing to the splint that covers most of her right foot, she says, “I can return to Gaza without this and play with all my friends like I did before the war.”
She teases the paramedics and a few relatives who came to bid her farewell and raise her morale. She pretends to leap from the wheelchair and into the ambulance on her own.
According to her cousin, who will be accompanying Al-Astal on her trip and asked not to be named, the girl had undergone some medical procedures in the hospital, but doctors were unable to deal fully with her health condition, prompting them to include her in the list of the wounded who need treatment outside Gaza.
Praying for her relative’s recovery, Al-Astal’s cousin wishes that others who were injured also get a chance for a full recovery. “I know many of them, and they’re happy for those selected among this first batch. But they’re also all hopeful they’d be among the next to leave,” she says.
‘Rescue them before they, too, die’
The director of Nasser Hospital, Dr Nahed Abu Taaema, says that many of the remaining wounded are in desperate need of treatment. “There have been several cases of deaths among those critically injured as they awaited this chance to travel abroad for treatment. If the opportunity for the next batch to leave drags on, many others won’t make it,” he tells Al Jazeera.
Abu Taaema explains that a committee of doctors, consultants and heads of departments had put together the list of those to be prioritised for receiving treatment in Egypt, with precedence given to children and women, especially those who are suffering from injuries to the head, backbone, chest and others.
“But due to the severe shortage of supplies, and the seriousness of many other cases, there are many more who did not make it on that list that also need immediate and specific attention,” he says. “They too need to be rescued before they too, die, or deteriorate.”
This feature was produced in collaboration with Egab.