Palestinian family dies in Turkey earthquake after fleeing violence in Gaza

Abdel Karim Abu Jalhoum had built a new life with his wife, Fatima, and their four children in southern city of Antakya

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More than 12 years ago, Abdel Karim Abu Jalhoum fled violence and poverty in the Palestinian territory of Gaza for safety in Turkey.

On Monday, the earthquake that devastated parts of southern Turkey and northern Syria killed him and his entire family.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said Mr Abu Jalhoum, 50, his wife Fatima, 33, and their four children, were among 70 Palestinians who had been found dead.

The overall death toll in the quake passed 16,000 on Thursday.

“My brother went to Turkey to seek a better life away from wars and blockades here in Gaza,” Mr Abu Jalhoum's brother, Ramzy, 43, said, as relatives and neighbours visited the family's house in the town of Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza, on Wednesday to pay respects.

“We lost the family. An entire family was wiped off the civil registration record,” he said.

Mr Abu Jalhoum had worked as a taxi driver in Gaza but struggled to support a growing family and left in 2010 for Turkey.

There, he worked in a wood factory in the southern city of Antakya, and Fatima and their children joined him once he was established.

In Antakya, life was promising for the couple and their children, Noura, 16, Bara, 11, Kenzi, 9 and Mohammad, 3, who was born in Turkey. Six months ago, they had moved to a new apartment, their family said.

Destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey. AP

In the hours after the tremors, the extended family desperately tried to make contact, calling everyone who could offer any information. On Tuesday, they recognised the family in a photo showing them buried under the rubble, lifeless.

In the picture, Mr Abu Jalhoum is seen embracing his children, seemingly trying to protect them with his body as their home collapsed on them.

There are no exact figures as to how many Palestinians live in Turkey, but many, especially from Gaza, have in recent years moved there.

Many are seeking opportunities away from the densely populated territory that has witnessed frequent conflict between the ruling Hamas movement and Israeli forces that has left the economy in ruins.

Wedad, the mother of Palestinian Abdel Karim Abu Jalhoum, who died with his family in the earthquake in Turkey, mourns in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza. Reuters

UN relief agency UNRWA estimates around 438,000 Palestinian refugees live in Syria.

The Palestinian Authority, which has a limited rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said it had sent a rescue mission to affected areas.

At the family house in Beit Lahiya, Mr Abu Jalhoum's mother, Wedad, prayed that the family's bodies could be returned home for burial.

“I haven't seen my son, nor his children for 12 years,” she said.

“I want my children, I want to see them and bid them farewell.”

Updated: February 09, 2023, 9:01 AM