Bassam Ali Sayma, a paramedic that works for Gaza's Red Crescent with an injured boy as they arrive at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on July 11. The child suffered shrapnel wounds from an Israeli air strike near his home in Nussarat, Gaza. Heidi Levine for The National
Bassam Ali Sayma, a paramedic that works for Gaza's Red Crescent with an injured boy as they arrive at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on July 11. The child suffered shrapnel wounds from an Israeli air stShow more

Exhausted and under fire, Gaza’s paramedics risk lives to save others



GAZA CITY // For 15 years, Ayman Shahwan has raced his ambulance through the death and destruction of Gaza’s seemingly unending war with Israel.

Braving the threat of air strikes and shelling, he has ferried scores of wounded men, women and children — and presumably fighters — to hospital from the wreckage of bombed-out Gaza homes. Often, he arrives to the grim aftermath of body parts that he must also collect for the authorities to identify.

“Sometimes you think this could be the end of your life. But you have to do this because there is no one else who will,” Mr Shahwan, 42, said during a short break at Gaza City’s Tel Al Hawa neighbourhood ambulance station.

Taking advantage of a lull in the bombardment, he and a dozen colleagues from the Palestine Red Crescent Society fought of exhaustion by watching television news and discussing the war’s latest developments. Drowsy from their Ramadan fast and having only two hours sleep the night before, they did their best to resist the urge to doze, knowing that at any moment they could be called to the scene of the latest attack.

During peace time they provide emergency medical care, such as CPR and administer life-saving drugs, while also shuttling patients to hospital, like emergency responders the world over. But unlike their counterparts in other countries, these Palestinians have endured three wars in six years — 2008-2009, 2012 and now.

Since the most recent flare-up with Israel began on Tuesday, 18 of Mr Shahwan colleagues have been wounded in attacks, according to the World Heath Organisation.

To many here, their courage under fire makes them heroes, including during the current onslaught that has killed at least 135 Palestinians, many of them civilians, and injured hundreds more.

“I’m here in the hospital treating all the victims that these people risk their lives to rescue, and I have to tip my hat to them,” said Youssef Jarboa, a paediatric surgeon at Gaza City’s Al Shifa Hospital. “Many more people would die if these people didn’t risk their own lives to bring victims to us as quickly as possible.”

Red Crescent officials say Israel inhibits their ability to respond to attacks and other emergencies during peace time by denying them permission to enter the buffer zone inside Gaza that extends metres from the wall Israel built around besieged territory, along with refusing to allow them to import communications equipment.

Despite being focused on only humanitarian work and not holding any political affiliation, sometimes the emergency responders are hit by Israeli attacks.

Khalil Abou Foul, the Red Crescent’s director of disaster management in Gaza, said three of his emergency responders operating in the central part of the territory were wounded by debris from an air raid during the first days of fighting.

In the northern Jabalia refugee camp, more than a dozen more were wounded on Wednesday by an air raid that also damaged three emergency vehicles.

Mr Abou Foul said he was concerned about the safety of his 120 full-time emergency medical technicians and 250 volunteers. Despite coordinating with the Israelis, providing them names, IDs, vehicle-number plates, he said his personnel are at great risk.

“There is no respect for ambulance workers on the Israeli side,” Mr Abou Foul said.

Activists reported that at least five Israeli projectiles struck a geriatric hospital in Gaza City on Friday, while the WHO has reported attacks that either targeted or damaged at least three other medical clinics and hospitals in the territory. One of those included an attack on the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Younis that injured a nurse and damaged the facility’s intensive care unit.

Emergency responders recalled losing colleagues during the years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Adel Al Azbat, who has volunteered for eight years at the Tel Al Hawa station in Gaza City, said two responders were killed in Gaza by an Israeli attack in 2006.

“You’re always thinking about whether this could happen to you, but at the end of the day, you have to put your fears aside and do your job. You have to help people,” said Mr Azbat, 30, who is enrolled in a local master’s degree programme specialising in media studies.

Mr Shahwan admits being psychologically scarred by what he saw during Israel’s three-week war on Gaza that began in December 2008. During that conflict, which both Israel and Gaza’s Hamas leadership faced accusations of war crimes, as many as 1,400 Palestinian were killed and another 5,000 wounded.

“The hard part about that war was that it lasted for so long and there were so many wounded people,” he said. “We didn’t sleep for weeks. We were exhausted. And at the same time were seeing so many dead people, women and children.”

He recalled how during that war, an unexploded, 1.5-tonne bomb from an attack across the street lodged itself at the entrance of their station.

On a different occasion during the war, a petrified colleague refused to exit the ambulance at a bombed-out home because of fear that Israeli aircraft, looming overhead, were going to strike the area again.

Mr Shahwan, a father of three, went in with a bystander who volunteered to help him pull out any survivors, but there were none. Just bodies and limbs, which Mr Shahwan collected on a stretcher to be identified later.

In a rush to leave the building, Mr Shahwan stumbled and the body parts fell on top of him.

“For a moment, I was overwhelmed with shock.”

Some ambulance drivers during the 2008-2009 war, complained that Hamas militants tried to hijack their vehicles. Israel, for its part, accused the Islamist group of using ambulances to transport fighters and weapons.

But Israel’s disaster-relief organisation, Magen David Adom, told the United Nations fact-finding committee into the war that “there was no use of [Red Crescent] ambulances for the transport of weapons or ammunition … [and] there was no misuse of the emblem by” the Red Crescent.

At least seven ambulance workers were killed by Israeli strikes during the 2008-2009 conflict, according to Amnesty International, which documented how Israeli forces also barred ambulances from reaching victims of attacks in Gaza City. In one instance, emergency responders were forced to enter a bombed area by foot, using a donkey-pulled cart to bring wounded children, as well as three bodies, 1.5 kilometres back to their ambulances.

“The rescue team had to leave tens of bodies behind as they had no means of carrying them away,” said the 2009 Amnesty report.

In the current conflict, the numbers of emergency responders may not be enough.

Khalil Abu Mrahel, a taxi driver, said he had to help carry two cousins to an ambulance and then perform CPR on his brother because the attack on his Gaza City neighbourhood on Wednesday produced too many victims for ambulance crews to handle.

“It was all so chaotic,” said Mr Abu Mrahel, 25, who was at Al Shifa Hospital tending to wounded family members there.

But for Mr Shahwan, who has not seen his family since Tuesday because of his non-stop work schedule, the emergency responders are doing their best.

By Friday morning, he had been called to respond eight times.

The ninth came during an interview with The National. He jolted out of his chair — his energy belied the dark circles under his eyes — and rushed to his ambulance to drive a few kilometres down the road, the site of the latest Israeli air raid.

Two more wounded were brought to Shifa Hospital.

“We’re doing our best with what we have,” he said afterwards.

“This is what we have to do for our people.”

hnaylor@thenational.ae

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets

From Conquest to Deportation

Jeronim Perovic, Hurst

Company profile

Company name: Tuhoon
Year started: June 2021
Co-founders: Fares Ghandour, Dr Naif Almutawa, Aymane Sennoussi
Based: Riyadh
Sector: health care
Size: 15 employees, $250,000 in revenue
Investment stage: seed
Investors: Wamda Capital, Nuwa Capital, angel investors

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

Japan 30-10 Russia

Tries: Matsushima (3), Labuschange | Golosnitsky

Conversions: Tamura, Matsuda | Kushnarev

Penalties: Tamura (2) | Kushnarev

Company profile

Name: Tabby
Founded: August 2019; platform went live in February 2020
Founder/CEO: Hosam Arab, co-founder: Daniil Barkalov
Based: Dubai, UAE
Sector: Payments
Size: 40-50 employees
Stage: Series A
Investors: Arbor Ventures, Mubadala Capital, Wamda Capital, STV, Raed Ventures, Global Founders Capital, JIMCO, Global Ventures, Venture Souq, Outliers VC, MSA Capital, HOF and AB Accelerator.

Brief scores:

Juventus 3

Dybala 6', Bonucci 17', Ronaldo 63'

Frosinone 0

The Ashes

Results
First Test, Brisbane: Australia won by 10 wickets
Second Test, Adelaide: Australia won by 120 runs
Third Test, Perth: Australia won by an innings and 41 runs
Fourth Test: Melbourne: Drawn
Fifth Test: Australia won by an innings and 123 runs

Credit Score explained

What is a credit score?

In the UAE your credit score is a number generated by the Al Etihad Credit Bureau (AECB), which represents your credit worthiness – in other words, your risk of defaulting on any debt repayments. In this country, the number is between 300 and 900. A low score indicates a higher risk of default, while a high score indicates you are a lower risk.

Why is it important?

Financial institutions will use it to decide whether or not you are a credit risk. Those with better scores may also receive preferential interest rates or terms on products such as loans, credit cards and mortgages.

How is it calculated?

The AECB collects information on your payment behaviour from banks as well as utilitiy and telecoms providers.

How can I improve my score?

By paying your bills on time and not missing any repayments, particularly your loan, credit card and mortgage payments. It is also wise to limit the number of credit card and loan applications you make and to reduce your outstanding balances.

How do I know if my score is low or high?

By checking it. Visit one of AECB’s Customer Happiness Centres with an original and valid Emirates ID, passport copy and valid email address. Liv. customers can also access the score directly from the banking app.

How much does it cost?

A credit report costs Dh100 while a report with the score included costs Dh150. Those only wanting the credit score pay Dh60. VAT is payable on top.

Company profile

Name: Tharb

Started: December 2016

Founder: Eisa Alsubousi

Based: Abu Dhabi

Sector: Luxury leather goods

Initial investment: Dh150,000 from personal savings

 

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

The specs: 2018 Nissan 370Z Nismo

The specs: 2018 Nissan 370Z Nismo
Price, base / as tested: Dh182,178
Engine: 3.7-litre V6
Power: 350hp @ 7,400rpm
Torque: 374Nm @ 5,200rpm
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Western Region Asia Cup T20 Qualifier

Sun Feb 23 – Thu Feb 27, Al Amerat, Oman

The two finalists advance to the Asia qualifier in Malaysia in August

 

Group A

Bahrain, Maldives, Oman, Qatar

 

Group B

UAE, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia

Know before you go
  • Jebel Akhdar is a two-hour drive from Muscat airport or a six-hour drive from Dubai. It’s impossible to visit by car unless you have a 4x4. Phone ahead to the hotel to arrange a transfer.
  • If you’re driving, make sure your insurance covers Oman.
  • By air: Budget airlines Air Arabia, Flydubai and SalamAir offer direct routes to Muscat from the UAE.
  • Tourists from the Emirates (UAE nationals not included) must apply for an Omani visa online before arrival at evisa.rop.gov.om. The process typically takes several days.
  • Flash floods are probable due to the terrain and a lack of drainage. Always check the weather before venturing into any canyons or other remote areas and identify a plan of escape that includes high ground, shelter and parking where your car won’t be overtaken by sudden downpours.

 

Bio

Born in Dibba, Sharjah in 1972.
He is the eldest among 11 brothers and sisters.
He was educated in Sharjah schools and is a graduate of UAE University in Al Ain.
He has written poetry for 30 years and has had work published in local newspapers.
He likes all kinds of adventure movies that relate to his work.
His dream is a safe and preserved environment for all humankind. 
His favourite book is The Quran, and 'Maze of Innovation and Creativity', written by his brother.

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Processor: A15 Bionic, 6-core CPU, 5-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine 

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Platform: iOS 16

Main camera: Dual 12MP main (f/1.5) + 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.4); 2x optical, 5x digital; Photonic Engine, Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4, Portrait Lighting

Main camera video: 4K @ 24/25/3060fps, full-HD @ 25/30/60fps, HD @ 30fps; HD slo-mo @ 120/240fps; night, time lapse, cinematic, action modes; Dolby Vision, 4K HDR

Front camera: 12MP TrueDepth (f/1.9), Photonic Engine, Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4; Animoji, Memoji; Portrait Lighting

Front camera video: 4K @ 24/25/3060fps, full-HD @ 25/30/60fps, HD slo-mo @ 120fps; night, time lapse, cinematic, action modes; Dolby Vision, 4K HDR

Battery: 3279 mAh, up to 20h video, 16h streaming video, 80h audio; fast charge to 50% in 30m; MagSafe, Qi wireless charging

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Apple Pay)

Biometrics: Face ID

I/O: Lightning

Cards: Dual eSIM / eSIM + SIM (US models use eSIMs only)

Colours: Blue, midnight, purple, starlight, Product Red

In the box: iPhone 14, USB-C-to-Lightning cable, one Apple sticker

Price: Dh3,399 / Dh3,799 / Dh4,649


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