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Hind, 6, goes missing in Gaza after getting caught in fighting

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Hind Rajab was petrified.

She was trapped in a car with her aunt, uncle and four cousins. All of them were dead. An Israeli tank loomed outside the car. Night was falling. For three hours she begged on the phone, her voice small and often trembling, for someone to come get her.

Hind is 6 years old.

“Come take me. Please, will you come?” she said on an emergency call on Monday with a dispatcher at the Palestine Red Crescent Society, which released the recording.

Hind and her family had piled into the car, hoping to escape fighting near where they were staying in Gaza City. While near a gas station, a bombing killed or rendered unconscious five of her family members, the sixth, her 15-year-old cousin Layan, had survived.

Layan called for help. She told the operator that a tank was closing in, there was a burst of gun fire, and she began screaming. Then the line went dead. The next time dispatchers reached the number, it was Hind who answered.

Layan had been killed, Hind said. The dispatcher told Hind to continue to hide in the car and asked Hind if she was surrounded by gunfire.

“Yes,” she said, her voice choked.

The PRCS sent an ambulance team to rescue Hind several hours after the girls first made contact. Because it was an active combat area, the Palestinian emergency service said, it had to request and eventually received permission from Israeli authorities to go where the family’s vehicle had been trapped by fighting.

In response to requests for comment, the Israel Defense Forces told NBC News on Thursday it was “unfamiliar with the incident described,” which has received widespread coverage in both local and foreign press.

The PRCS said its paramedics Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al Madhoun had arrived in the area but lost contact by 7 p.m. local time on Monday. They are both missing, too, according the PRCS.

Paramedics Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al Madhoun were sent by the Palestine Red Crescent Society to rescue Hind on Monday.
Paramedics Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al Madhoun were sent by the Palestine Red Crescent Society to rescue Hind on Monday.via PRCS

As desperation about their whereabouts mounts, family members and the PRCS have demanded answers from international organizations and the Israeli military.

“Where is Hind? Where are Yousef and Ahmed? Are they still alive? We want to know their fate,” the PRCS said in a social media post on Sunday, adding that it’s been nearly a week since the service lost contact with its ambulance team.

In an interview with NBC News, Hind’s mother, Wissam Hamadah, who was not in the car with her, said, “Each time I hear an ambulance, I think that’s my daughter coming. Each time I hear a bomb or bullet or explosion, I think that’s directed at my daughter and my heart stops.”

“Any strike that happens, I feel like they’re targeting my daughter,” Hamadah said.

Hamadah said that she put her daughter in the car with their relatives on Monday morning. She said heavy fighting had engulfed the area, and the large and already-displaced family was fleeing from the Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City. Hamadah thought Hind would be safer in the car.

“It was really cold and it was raining really heavily, so I told my daughter to get in the car with my uncle and the rest of us would walk, because Hind is really young.”

That same morning, an IDF Arabic-language spokesperson put out an evacuation order for their neighborhood.

“As soon as they left we heard gunfire,” Hamadah added. “The gunfire was really intense and we knew it was firing at the car.”

Hind’s mother feared her daughter was already dead as her attempts to reach family members in the car and rescue services initially went unanswered.

There was no signal. The 6-year-old was in a car with her mother’s uncle, his wife and their four children, before Layan managed to get through to Hamadah confirming the pair were still breathing but hurt and in need of medical attention. The teenage girl then called the PRCS for help around 2 p.m. local time.

Once the call between Layan and the PRCS was dropped, Hind’s mother was sure the worst had happened to Hind too. But when she called Layan’s phone, Hind answered, saying, “I’m alive, the bullets haven’t hit me yet,” Hamadah, weeping, recounted of one of the last conversations she had with her daughter.

Meanwhile in the occupied West Bank, several Ramallah-based PRCS emergency dispatchers said in posts on social media that they stayed on the phone with Hind for more three hours, trying to calm her down and offering psychological support while the attempted rescue was being hammered out. Though the PRCS confirmed its ambulance arrived in the area by 6 p.m., it didn’t receive word from the paramedics if they had reached the vehicle yet. Her mother was also patched in on the call.

By 7 p.m., all modes of communication with both the rescue team and Hind were lost, according to family members and the PRCS. One of the last things Hind told her mother was, “Mama, I’m hungry. Mama, I’m thirsty. Please come to me.”

As concerns about the missing girl and paramedics continued to grow throughout the week, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry put out a statement blaming the Israeli military for their unknown status.

“The Ministry holds the Israeli government fully and directly responsible for the lives of thousands of abductees, detainees and missing persons, including the child Hind and the Red Crescent crew who went to rescue her more than 85 hours ago and lost contact with them,” the ministry wrote in a social media post on Friday.

“I don’t know anything about my daughter, whether she’s alive or anything,” Hind’s mother said, struggling to find more words.

The hellish anxiety for Hind’s family surrounding the 6-year-old’s condition comes as the United Nations agency for children estimates that at least 17,000 children in Gaza are unaccompanied or separated from their parents amid Israel’s monthslong military onslaught on the Palestinian enclave that has killed more than 10,000 children, according to health officials there.

Israeli forces withdraw from some areas in the Gaza Strip
Civilians walk the streets of Gaza City on Thursday.Mahmoud Shalha / Anadolu via Getty Images

After imploring the U.N. and human rights group for help, Hind’s mother was visibly distraught as she pleaded for contact from Israeli forces.

“I want a phone call from anyone in the army. We want our daughter, she is innocent. It’s a sin what is happening to her. She’s too young for what’s happening, she’s too young,” she said.

Though the days keep passing with no new information, Hamadah refuses to give up hope — it’s the only thing she has to cling on to, she said.

“I believe that my daughter is alive, I’m certain my daughter is still alive,” the mother said as the dull thuds of bombs punctuated the background.

“I’m telling you my daughter is alive. Bring her back to me.”

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