UAE medics evacuated from Gaza return home safely

Team of six volunteers delivering paediatric care forced to flee after Israeli air strikes

Powered by automated translation

Six volunteer medics have returned safely to the UAE after fleeing Gaza when Israeli air strikes pounded the Palestinian enclave on Saturday.

More than 33 Palestinians were reported killed and at least 147 wounded following an intense bombardment that began on May 9.

Two Israelis were also reported to have been killed in the latest violence between Israel and militant groups in Gaza.

Sites linked to Palestinian Islamic Jihad were the targets of the strikes, before a ceasefire brokered by Egypt brought relative calm to the enclave.

After the bombings started, the team was stuck in Gaza for four or five days, but we managed to get them out
Steve Sosebee, president and founder of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund

Before then, a team of medics visiting Gaza from the UAE to deliver paediatric care and training for emergency doctors had been unable to leave.

Health professionals were delivering vital care and training on behalf of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, an organisation that has helped the children of Gaza city for 30 years.

One of those was Dr Marc Sinclair, who has been visiting Gaza twice a year for 12 years to treat children with congenital deformities and injuries sustained in conflict or accidents.

“We were with a team of six medical professionals and on the second to last day of our visit rockets were fired from Israel,” he said.

“Nothing happened that night, but the next day rockets started flying and we had to suspend our elective surgery programme as our hospital had to be ready to take in casualties.

“No one knew how many there may be. We only had to cancel a couple of appointments, but then we were stuck for three days watching rockets fly left and right of our hospital accommodation.”

UAE-based doctors working for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Photo: Dr Marc Sinclair

While a temporary triage system was set up in front of the hospital to care for casualties of the attacks, an evacuation plan was put into action for volunteers and charity workers.

Dr Sinclair, a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon who usually works at Mediclinic Parkview Hospital in Dubai, received a call on Saturday to board an ambulance to be evacuated from Gaza city.

He then boarded a bus to travel to the border with Israel.

A co-ordinated evacuation allowed the medics to leave with about 300 other foreign citizens who worked for the UN or NGOs.

A ceasefire was due to begin at 10pm that night, so the group seized the window of opportunity to leave.

“At 10.05, several rockets launched near to us and everyone was very nervous,” Dr Sinclair said.

“We didn’t know if people were respecting the ceasefire, but after a few minutes it quietened down and we drove across Palestinian and Hamas checkpoints.

“We were very much caught in the middle of the fighting. It was intimidating to see rockets launched just 100 metres from our accommodation.

“We saw a lot of shrapnel injuries in the hospital while we were there, and one person died.

“After 12 years I know all the doctors and nurses, and I have seen children grow up in my time working there.

“The motivation is purely humanitarian and we will be going back.”

Dr Sinclair founded the Little Wings Foundation to provide medical assistance to children who have musculoskeletal deformities in the Middle East and North Africa, in partnership with Al Jalila Foundation.

Caught up in conflict

Steve Sosebee, president and founder of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, said such partnerships were vital to enable life-saving work across Gaza.

“After the bombings started, the team was stuck in Gaza for four or five days, but we managed to get them out,” he said.

“As the doctors were of multiple nationalities it was hard to get embassies to intervene, so we were stuck until there was a ceasefire.

“Missiles were not hitting a front-line military target. It is an urban environment where the targets the Israelis are selecting were apartment buildings in a densely congested area.”

Mr Sosebee has been visiting Gaza for 30 years and has helped to transform paediatric care in Palestine thanks to the work of the PCRF.

The foundation has provided hundreds with free care at Gaza’s first paediatric cancer department, while an orphan sponsorship programme provides food and clothing for children who lost parents to war and disease.

Dr Besh Barcega, an assistant professor of paediatric and global emergency medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Southern California, made her first trip to Gaza two days after the ceasefire.

“Tensions were high when we arrived but things have calmed down,” she said.

“There is still some anxiety in the emergency departments we have visited, and one of the hospitals did have superficial damage after it was affected by one of the bombs, but it is back to normal now.

“I did not know what to expect coming to Gaza.

“The physicians here are very resilient and work well with the limited resources they have.”

Updated: May 18, 2023, 7:42 AM