RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Amid Gaza war and bloodshed, a miracle has happened. And the miracle is Mecca.
On Saturday, 28-year-old Dareen who was almost full term pregnant with her third child was hanging out washing on the balcony in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Then came the Israeli strike that threw her from the third floor down to the neighbour’s place below.
Her husband Ayman Abu Shamalah, who himself escaped death by a matter of seconds when the strike slammed into a building, rushed down to find her on the floor.
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“I thought she and the baby would be dead after such a fall. I found her lying on the floor but she was still alive.
“Her last words to me were: ‘Ayman, take Mecca out of my belly and take care of her’,” he told AFP
Abu Shamalah's wife was so disfigured by the explosion that he only recognised her by “the trousers she was wearing”, he said.
In the Abu Yousef Al Najjar hospital where her body was taken, he begged the doctor “to save the baby”.
“I told him it was her last wish.”
The doctors managed to get the baby out by carrying out a Caesarian section, with the tiny newborn urgently rushed to the paediatric unit at the Emirates Red Crescent hospital in Rafah.
The 34-year-old said the family had fled the bombardments in Gaza City to shelter with relatives in Rafah.
But the building where they were staying was hit by Israeli forces, Abu Shamalah said, robbing him of his wife and children, along with four other relatives and two of their children.
It was also the day of their shared birthday when three-year-old Adam and his sister Sham, 9, were killed along with their mother in an Israeli strike on southern Gaza, their distraught father told AFP.
“I was coming down the stairs when the strike happened. If I had come down 30 seconds earlier, I would have been killed with them,” he told AFP on Monday, sobbing inconsolably.
It was in the evening and Abu Shamalah had gone up to the roof to check that the water tanks were filling up after they finally got a delivery 11 days after supplies were cut.
Israel began an intensive bombing campaign across Gaza after Hamas militants stormed across the border on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, Israeli officials say.
Since then, Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry says more than 5,000 people, also mainly civilians, have been killed in the Israeli bombardment, among them 2,000 children.
“They put my son’s shattered body in a blue bag. Sham’s body was totally burnt,” Abu Shamalah said, his voice a strangled sob.
“October 21 was Sham and Adam’s birthday and it became the day they died. It will be a very difficult day for me every year,” he said
“The baby was in very serious condition when she was brought here and immediately put onto a ventilator,” the hospital’s head of emergencies, Mohammad Salameh, told AFP.
“But the initial prognosis doesn’t look good because her brain was starved of oxygen between the time of her mother’s death and when she was born,” he said.
“It is very likely she will suffer permanent after-effects.”
Standing in front of his tiny daughter’s incubator, Abu Shamalah burst into tears, as a doctor tried to console him.
A name tag on the incubator reads: “Baby of the martyr Dareen Abu Shamalah” with the date of birth October 21 - the same date on which his other two children were born.
And the date on which they died along with their mother.