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A Palestinian mother of six receiving treatment in the UAE after being paralysed by shrapnel from an Israeli air strike has said it is “a blessing” that she and her family survived the terrifying ordeal.
Nesreen Al Muqayed, 48, was sleeping at home in the Gaza Strip with her children when she was awoken by screams as a rocket blasted into their building.
She was struck by shrapnel flying through the air, which went through her skull and lodged in her spinal cord.
Her eldest son, Firas, was in the next room and saw the approaching missile go through his bedroom window and hit the wall of his mother’s room.
“I was asleep in the next room and woke up to the screams of my children [telling everyone] to hide because the missile was coming towards us. I had just opened my eyes when flying shrapnel hit me in the head,” she said.
The incident took place in late October – in the early weeks of the war – when the enclave's health sector had not yet been so badly decimated by continued bombardment.
An ambulance arrived quickly to take her to a nearby hospital.
“Life was still good and our hospitals were still up and running. Today, Gaza is a graveyard of bodies. Hospitals and ambulances are a thing of the past,” she said.
Thankful for UAE solidarity
Ms Al Muqayed is among the hundreds of Palestinians already receiving treatment at hospitals in the UAE on the directives of President Sheikh Mohamed, as Gaza's health sector buckles under the pressure of weeks of fierce conflict.
The UAE leader has called for 2,000 Palestinians – including those wounded in the conflict, cancer patients and children – to be flown to the Emirates for medical care.
Ms Al Muqayed arrived in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, less than 24 hours after registering for treatment overseas.
Despite being told she will never walk again, she is grateful for her family's miraculous escape and for the support of the UAE.
The former Islamic Studies teacher is paralysed completely on her right side.
“I had applied to several countries for treatment and the first to respond was the UAE and in less than 24 hours, I was in Abu Dhabi,” she said.
She received a message at 8pm on Wednesday telling her to head to the Rafah border passing to continue treatment in Abu Dhabi.
By then she had moved to the south of Palestine with Firas. Her five other children are still in Gaza.
Firas told of his anguish at the injuries suffered by his mother, but also remained thankful they were not killed.
“I am grateful that we are all alive and that nothing happened to me and my siblings but it did hit the most precious person in our lives, my mother,” he said.
“So it is strange to say that I am grateful,” Firas, 20, said. “But we thank God for being alive.”
Ms Al Muqayed said tragedy had struck many lives Gaza since the war broke out on October 7.
The death toll stands at more than 17,000, while about 1.5 million have been displaced.
“Every single house in Palestine has either injured people or several people who have died,” she said.
“So for us to all be alive, is a blessing. I lost my brother and my nephew and so many people I know.
“You don’t understand the true meaning of security and the UAE is blessed with it.”
She said she applied to several countries for treatment.
“As soon as I applied to the UAE, they brought me over in less than 24 hours – I never thought that I would survive,” Ms Al Muqayed said.
“In Gaza, we wait to die – there is no food and there is no water and you wait for your turn to die.
“Here in the UAE, I feel like I am with my family.”
UAE is our family
Cancer patient Nagwa Ismail, 65, arrived in the UAE for treatment two weeks ago.
She had the disease diagnosed a year ago but her treatment was halted due to the outbreak of war.
“I want to get treated and this cancer removed for my body,” the mother of four said.
Ms Ismail's husband died several years ago and she has no living siblings.
“I have no one to care for me,” she said. “And all my hope is in the UAE now who I know will care of me like their own. You are my only family. We have nothing remaining in Gaza.”