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“It’s OK brother, stop crying, we’re finally safe and there’s no reason to be afraid any more,” a boy from Gaza told his younger sibling as they embraced thousands of feet in the air.
The pair were aboard a chartered plane carrying about 15 children, along with their families, to Abu Dhabi for medical treatment.
The injured and their relatives are the first of 1,000 women and children to be evacuated to the UAE under an initiative from President Sheikh Mohamed that will allow injured Palestinian children from Gaza to be flown in for treatment at UAE hospitals.
They crossed the Rafah border into Egypt’s Al Arish where more than 20 doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians from the UAE’s Burjeel Hospital, NMC Royal Hospital and Sheikh Khalifa Medical City assessed them.
“We hope to receive the first group within the coming week,” Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE's Permanent Representative to the UN, told the UN Security Council.
Mohammed Khamis Al Kaabi, Head of the Emirates Red Crescent delegation to Egypt, told The National that the UAE group has been working with partners at the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent to identify and assess who could make the journey and cross the Rafah border.
“The 15 or so people who crossed the border today are part of the first batch that will hopefully continue in the days and weeks to come as we try to facilitate the transfer of as many patients from Gaza to the UAE as we can help,” Mr Al Kaabi said.
The Emirati Red Crescent is building a field hospital near the Rafah border where those not medically fit to leave Al Arish can receive treatment.
Since the UAE announced the operation, named Gallant Knight 3, it has flown out several cargo planes carrying equipment and medical supplies for the hospital.
The hospital, Mr Al Kaabi said, will have 150 beds and include various specialised units such as surgery, orthopaedics, paediatrics and gynaecology, along with other essential medical services.
Specialist ICU and paediatricians were chosen from UAE hospitals, particularly those with experience in working with trauma patients.
“We have made preparations for this mission for several weeks now and, as is with war, we have thought of all the contingency plans we need to take care of in case anything that can change on the ground and for every possible scenario,” Tarek Wahba, a specialist physician in the intensive care department at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, told The National.
Specialist doctors including Dr Zainul Aabideen, a paediatric oncologist at Burjeel Hospital, were also flown in to tend to at least seven patients, most of them children, who were suffering from cancer to assess their medical needs before their flights to Abu Dhabi.
Gallant Knight 3 was launched on November 5 under the leadership of the Joint Operations Command at the Ministry of Defence in co-operation and co-ordination with the Emirates Red Crescent, the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, the Zayed Charitable Humanitarian Foundation, and other UAE institutions to provide humanitarian support to Palestinian people in Gaza.
The initiative also provides volunteering opportunities for doctors registered with the Ministry of Health and Prevention and the Department of Health Abu Dhabi and for volunteers registered with the Emirates Red Crescent and other aid charities.
Maha Barakat, UAE Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Health Affairs, said all medical and health teams and hospitals in the country were prepared to receive the remaining children and their families until they can return to Gaza safely.
“Since the beginning of the crisis, the UAE and its President have rushed to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to the Gaza Strip,” she told The National.