Dubai woman loses 30 relatives in one night as Israeli bombing flattens home in Gaza

The victims, aged between 8 and 65 years, all took shelter in a three-story villa in Rafah, which was struck by a missile on October 16


Mazhar Farooqui

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Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses, in Gaza City October 28, 2023. Photo: Reuters
Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses, in Gaza City October 28, 2023. Photo: Reuters

Published: Mon 30 Oct 2023, 4:06 PM

Last updated: Tue 31 Oct 2023, 10:30 AM

Sana wears a courageous smile while carrying out her duties at a departmental store in the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai. However, behind that smile is an indescribable sorrow - a heartbreak of losing loved ones. Less than a fortnight ago, this Palestinian woman went through a harrowing tragedy that has left her emotionally devastated.

The Dubai resident lost 30 relatives in an Israeli airstrike that decimated a villa in her hometown in Gaza. The victims, whose ages ranged from 8 to 65 years, included her cousin Alia, who was 22 and on the cusp of starting a new life in Dubai after securing a job as a nutritionist.

Sana's voice trembled, and her eyes welled up as she attempted to speak of the tragedy. But she felt her anguish was dwarfed by the profound sorrow that Alia's elder sister has gone through, who resides in Abu Dhabi, and her husband. "They are too traumatised to speak to anyone as the attack also claimed the lives of both their parents."

Out of respect for the privacy of those affected by the tragedy, Khaleej Times has changed the names of the individuals.

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"Why did this have to happen to all those wonderful people back home? Oh Alia, I have so many memories with her," said Sana as she scrolled through her phone to display the desperate WhatsApp messages she sent to her cousin after hearing about the attack. "Where are you, Alia?" "Please answer." "I hope you are alright," the messages read.

Sana held onto hope for hours, praying to hear back from her beloved cousin, but the heartbreaking reality soon sank in. At around 8pm on October 16, a missile struck the three-story villa in Rafah, located in the southwest of Gaza, where five extended families had taken refuge. There were no survivors.

From the debris, 30 bodies were pulled out. Among the deceased were Sana's uncle, who owned the villa, his wife, their daughter Naila, and her four children. "They thought it was a safe place. It had been a vacation house, and they had moved there just weeks ago," said Sana. "My uncle lived in Saudi Arabia and was visiting Gaza with his family. His married daughter, who lived elsewhere, came to visit her parents with her children. Two of their children were attending university. The youngest was eight years old. All of them died."

Sana said her nights are plagued by memories of her visit to Gaza in 2021. She showed pictures of herself and Alia on her phone, reminiscing about the days spent in cafes and the joy they shared. "Alia was so full of life," Sana recalled, her voice quivering. "She had a master's in nutrition and had just landed a job in Dubai. She used to say, 'I won't stay with my sister in Abu Dhabi; I'll stay with you.' All she wanted was to study. She was fiercely ambitious and couldn't stop pursuing degrees. We used to tease her about how many degrees she'd earn. Alia was excited about coming to Dubai; she had never been here and was looking forward to experiencing the vibrant culture and opportunities this city has to offer. Alas, fate had ordained otherwise."

Sana grew up in Abu Dhabi, where her father worked for the public sector. She got married in 2014, but her life took an unexpected turn when her husband passed away due to a cardiac arrest five years later, leaving behind their two young twins.

Since then, Alia and her extended family had become an essential part of Sana's support system. "Now all that is gone," said Sana, staring blankly into space. "Taken away in minutes. My aged parents are inconsolable, and I can't even imagine what Alia's real sister is going through, having lost not just a sibling but also her parents and in-laws."

Sana now faces the challenge of maintaining a composed demeanour as she interacts with customers and colleagues at the mall. Her office has advised her to take some time off, understanding the enormity of her loss, but she fears going insane sitting at home. "I am trying to keep myself busy; it’s not easy."

As Sana copes with her situation, it has come to light that a female doctor in Sharjah has also suffered a tragic loss. She lost several relatives to an airstrike in another part of Gaza on Sunday (Oct 29). The victims include children, who now make up over 40 per cent of the estimated 8,000 people killed in Gaza.

Figures released by the nongovernmental organisation Save the Children on Sunday, referencing Palestinian health authorities, show that at least 3,324 children have been killed in Gaza since October 7, with 36 deaths in the West Bank. "More children have been killed in Gaza in the last three weeks than in conflicts worldwide every year since 2019," said Save the Children.


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