A Canadian woman trapped in Gaza says she is afraid she could die at any moment as Israeli warplanes drop bombs around her in the sealed-off Palestinian territory, and she’s pleading for Ottawa’s help.
“Please, please, please, please help us,” said Mississauga, Ont., resident Khloud Fayyad, crying as she spoke by phone from Khan Yunis, a city in southern Gaza.
With the sound of exploding bombs audible in the background, the 60-year-old mother of three paused and said she could hear an Israeli warplane flying overhead.
“They can drop anywhere, any time. I’m very scared. I really need help. Everything is destroyed around us. Everything.”
Fayyad said she left her three sons in Mississauga to visit her sick 85-year-old father in Gaza a week before Israel began its massive bombardment of the territory in retaliation for a deadly weekend attack by Hamas militants, which killed Israeli soldiers and civilians, including children.
Hamas has said the attack was retribution for worsening conditions Palestinians face under Israeli occupation. The militants and another Gaza-based group called Palestinian Islamic Jihad have claimed to be holding at least 150 hostages – soldiers and civilians.
Fayyad told The Canadian Press that she narrowly evaded Israeli strikes, but that three of her cousins were killed.
When the war began, Fayyad said she called the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv to report that she was a citizen stuck in Gaza. They took her number and promised to call back but have not, she said.
The embassy also told her to call a United Nations emergency line, but no one picked up, she said.
Like thousands of others in the territory that is home to around 2.3 million Palestinians, Fayyad said she has sought shelter in a school, which is ten minutes away from her family’s home.
She said she has been returning to the home once a day, to have a small piece of bread and sip of water with her family – her one meal of the day – before returning to the school, which doesn’t have running water, food or electricity.
She said she has seen injured people and dead bodies amid the collapsed, bombed-out buildings around her.
“We sleep on the floor in the school. Last night it rained, so the floor was wet.”
Msllam Fayadh, Fayyad’s 30-year-old son in Mississauga, said he has been on his phone constantly, seeking reassurance that his mother is OK.
“Every second I’m not sure if she’s gonna be alive. Then I’m getting a text message, ‘Oh, she’s alive now,'” he said in a phone interview.
“I talk to her for five minutes. I hear bombs, bombs, bombs and she shuts down the phone. You can’t even hear her clearly. I’m very scared, I’m very frustrated. My mindset is all over the place,” he said.
“The whole city is shaking.”
The death toll in Gaza rose to 1,200 early Thursday, including at least 326 children and 171 women, the Palestinian health ministry said. The fight has already claimed at least 2,600 lives on both sides.
Around 70 Canadians are stuck in the Gaza Strip and have asked for help, federal government officials said Wednesday, but the Canadian government has no way of reaching them without a humanitarian corridor.
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The sole remaining access point with Egypt shut down Tuesday after airstrikes hit near the border crossing, which is the only passage out of Gaza that does not lead into Israel.
Ottawa has taken the highly unusual step of offering military flights to Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families seeking to leave Israel even though the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv is still open.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Wednesday that the government felt it needed to step in because many commercial flights were cancelled or delayed. A Royal Canadian Air Force plane had left Tel Aviv with 130 people on board on Thursday.
Fayadh said he was frustrated that Canada had developed an urgent plan to help people on the Israeli side, but those in Gaza remain trapped.
“I like how they’re acting fast but it doesn’t seem like they have a plan for the people of Gaza,” he said.
“What about Gaza? I want to know when, if ever, they’re planning to actually evacuate Canadians from Gaza. Everybody is on the top of each other now in the schools because there’s no safe zones in Gaza.”
“We just stay in hope and cross fingers that things don’t get worse,” he said.
From Gaza, Fayyad said she was desperate for help.
“We are human,” she said. “There is no difference between humans as Palestinian, Israeli, Canadian.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published October 12, 2023.