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In Chicago, a family from Gaza mourns relatives killed in Israel-Hamas fighting

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The current truce between Israel and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, is set to expire today, though both sides indicate they are open to an extension. Along with the exchange of prisoners and hostages, the agreement is said to include better access for aid, and that's critical because along with shortages of food and other basic needs, fuel shortages have triggered communications blackouts, making it hard to reach loved ones, friends and colleagues inside Gaza. NPR's Mohamad ElBardicy spoke with people in Chicago who are trying to keep tabs on relatives caught up in the war.

MOHAMAD ELBARDICY, BYLINE: Mohammed AbuSafia is a doctor from northern Gaza. He came to the United States in July for what was supposed to be just a two-month medical program at Cleveland Clinic.

MOHAMMED ABUSAFIA: My dad and my mother were very proud of me for seeking the opportunity and going to continue my studies. I cried at the border when I had to say goodbye because I knew things can go bad at some point. I wasn't imagining that I would be going to say the last goodbye, actually.

ELBARDICY: One week into the war, AbuSafia says his family home was hit by an Israeli airstrike. He got a long text from his father before it happened.

ABUSAFIA: In the message, he said, just look after yourself, and we hopefully will be OK. And after that, I received the news that my father was killed.

ELBARDICY: Two of his brothers were badly injured. They were treated at Al-Shifa Hospital but were discharged just three days later. They took refuge in their aunt's home nearby the hospital, still injured. Then Israeli forces began moving towards the hospital, claiming Hamas uses it as a military command center. A couple of weeks later, AbuSafia received a message from his colleague at Al-Shifa.

ABUSAFIA: She texted me saying, I don't know how to put this in words, but your brother Osama (ph) was killed because an Israeli airstrike hit my aunt's house where they evacuated to.

ELBARDICY: He was scared for the rest of his family.

ABUSAFIA: Where are they? Are they under the rubble? Are they alive? Are they injured? And it takes another five hours of waiting, knowing that the worst could actually happen.

ELBARDICY: The worst did happen. AbuSafia says, altogether, at least 39 members of his family have been killed, including his mother, father and five brothers.

ABUSAFIA: My youngest brother, he is what we call the fruit of the family. He used to play a lot of video games, and whenever he had any problem, we used to interrupt whatever I'm doing. And let me tell you, it's one of the things that I miss most. And I know he won't be interrupting me anymore.

ELBARDICY: Many of the children in his family have been killed, including two who succumbed to their severe injuries while being treated at Al-Shifa Hospital. AbuSafia has watched all of this happen from his uncle's home in Chicago. Mohammed Abu Realh has lived in the U.S. for years.

MOHAMMED ABU REALH: We are waiting every single second to see, would somebody tell me that they are still alive? That is the most difficult time. That is the reality. And there is no safe place in Gaza. That's unfortunately the reality of the Palestinian people. We wanted to live like every other human in peace, security, free from occupation.

ELBARDICY: Mohamad ElBardicy, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHILIP GLASS AND PAUL LEONARD-MORGAN'S "TALES FROM THE LOOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mohamad ElBardicy
Mohamad ElBardicy is an editor on Morning Edition and the UpFirst podcast. Before joining NPR in 2019, his career focused on international news with Al-Jazeera, CNN, Eurovision and other outlets during his 15 years in journalism. He's produced, edited and reported stories from around the world. ElBardicy's field work during 2011's Arab Spring helped shape his mission to bring global views and voices to American audiences. He is an American-Egyptian who speaks Arabic fluently and, when he's not being a news junky, you can find him practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
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