'Angel of Mostar' helps fly Gazan children on private jet to Italy for surgery

Children were suffering from blast injuries and amputations

Sally Becker, founder of Save a Child, has spoken about her role in the evacuation after the children landed in Italy. PA
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A British aid worker, nicknamed the Angel of Mostar after saving hundreds of young people in the Bosnian war, helped evacuate nine children from Gaza for surgery in Rome.

Sally Becker has spoken about her role in the evacuation after the children, five of whom are suffering from blast injuries and amputations, landed in Italy on Tuesday.

Ms Becker worked with Gaza Kinder Relief, which organises the evacuation of critically injured children, and Project Pure Hope, run by a group of UK doctors and healthcare workers to support children who are victims of the conflict.

In a post on Instagram, Gaza Kinder Relief said it took "pride in this major and first-of-its-kind initiative as these children are on their way to receiving world-class treatment". It added: "We are beyond touched seeing these beautiful kids’ arrival and Italy’s warm welcome. Weeks of hard work with our team and allies has finally paid off with these very special moments."

Ms Becker has been an aid worker for about 30 years. She began her work in 1993 after a UN officer asked her to help a child in need of treatment during the Bosnian civil war, when she drove an ambulance across the front lines to evacuate children and their families.

“Nothing has changed since I started helping children in 1993. It’s still horrific. It’s still shocking. I still find it traumatic to see children in that condition,” she said in an interview with The Times.

“It’s so unnecessary. We’re killing children when, once upon a time, we would have sent our armies out to far-flung fields to battle it out between them. Now it’s women and children that suffer the most.

“I just hope other countries will open their doors to help more children in urgent need of specialist treatment.”

The flight was funded by Project Pure Hope and Direct Relief.

“Gaza Kinder Relief had to get them all moved in the last couple of days to Cairo and one little girl [Joudi] only crossed the Gaza border the night before, so we didn’t even know if they would make it in time. I was so relieved when we finally landed as it was looking really unlikely at times.”

Overhead compartments in the plane had been filled with toys and gifts by the Refugee Foundation.

“There was plenty of food, sweets and chocolate as well,” she said, adding that the children were excited to get on the plane.

UAE drops aid into Gaza – in pictures

“When we receive these referrals straight from the hospitals I get to see the injuries when they first happen and it’s just awful.

“But it’s like the photos have come to life. Suddenly this shocking picture of a child that could be any of the thousands of children who were injured is holding my hand.

“I suppose what makes it possible for me to do this is the fact I know the children will be safe, I know their conditions will improve and their lives might be saved.”

She told the newspaper about Kamal, a 14-year-old, who lost a leg. He insisted on walking down the steps of the plane himself.

“Kamal is a dignified young man. When we arrived, there were all these ambulances ready to take the children off the plane with stretchers and wheelchairs. But he just refused – he wanted to walk. He was so inspirational. He just marched into that hospital, head held high.

“He’ll get, as they all will, advanced prosthetics made especially for them in Bologna once their wounds are sufficiently healed.”

Gaza Kinder Relief spent months making connections with Egyptian authorities to obtain the children’s visas, according to the report.

Updated: May 02, 2024, 2:26 PM