How a Scottish couple got trapped in Gaza amid the conflict
Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla, the parents-in-law of Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf, had travelled to Gaza to visit their relatives, including Nadia’s brother who is an emergency doctor. They had planned to stay for six weeks, but their return flight was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They found themselves trapped in the besieged territory as Israel launched a devastating military campaign against Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza.
The couple, who are retired and live in Dundee, had to endure constant bombardment, power cuts, water shortages, and fear for their lives and their loved ones. They also faced difficulties in communicating with their daughter and son-in-law in Scotland, as the internet and phone services were often disrupted.
How they managed to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing
After four weeks of living in a nightmare, the El-Naklas were able to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing, the only exit point to Egypt that is controlled by Hamas and Egypt. The crossing was opened for a few days to allow foreign nationals and wounded people to leave Gaza, as part of the efforts by the US and Arab mediators to ease the humanitarian crisis and broker a ceasefire.
The El-Naklas were among the 200 British citizens who were trapped in Gaza and some of them managed to cross the border with the help of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) crisis team. The couple said they were grateful to all those who assisted them, but they were heartbroken for the people of Gaza who remained under siege and bombardment.
How the First Minister reacted to their escape and the situation in Gaza
Humza Yousaf, who is also the Health Secretary of Scotland, said he was relieved that his parents-in-law were able to leave Gaza, but he was still worried about his wife’s brother, grandmother, and stepmother who stayed behind. He said he had been praying for them and for all the innocent civilians who were suffering in Gaza and Israel.
He also reiterated his calls for an immediate ceasefire, the opening of a humanitarian corridor, and the release of all hostages. He said he was appalled by the Israeli airstrikes that targeted apartment blocks, refugee camps, and media offices, killing and injuring hundreds of people, including many children. He said he condemned the blatant disregard for human life and the collective punishment of the Palestinians.
He also said he hoped that the international community would focus on achieving a lasting peace in the region, one that would recognise the rights and lives of both Palestinians and Israelis as equal.
How the conflict in Gaza escalated and what are the prospects for a ceasefire
The conflict in Gaza erupted on May 10, after weeks of tension and violence in Jerusalem over the planned evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and the Israeli police raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam. Hamas fired rockets at Israel, which responded with airstrikes and artillery fire, targeting Hamas’s military and civilian infrastructure.
The fighting has been the worst since the 2014 war, which lasted for 50 days and killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed and 52,000 injured since May 10, while 12 Israelis have been killed and 300 wounded by rocket fire, according to the Israeli authorities.
Several attempts to broker a ceasefire have failed so far, as both sides have rejected the conditions of the other. Israel has demanded that Hamas stop firing rockets and agree to disarm, while Hamas has demanded that Israel end its blockade of Gaza and its occupation of the Palestinian territories. The US, Egypt, Qatar, and the UN have been trying to mediate between the parties, but they have faced resistance and mistrust from both sides.
The international community has expressed concern and outrage over the humanitarian crisis and the civilian casualties in Gaza, and has urged both sides to de-escalate and respect international law. However, the UN Security Council has been unable to issue a joint statement or a resolution on the situation, due to the veto power of the US, which is Israel’s main ally and arms supplier.
What will happen next to the El-Naklas and the people of Gaza
The El-Naklas are now in Egypt, where they are waiting for a flight to return to Scotland. They said they were looking forward to seeing their daughter and son-in-law, and to resuming their normal life. They also said they hoped to visit Gaza again in the future, when the situation would be more stable and peaceful.
However, the fate of the people of Gaza remains uncertain and bleak, as the conflict shows no sign of ending soon. The humanitarian situation is dire, as the population of 2 million people faces shortages of food, water, medicine, and fuel, as well as the risk of Covid-19 infection. The infrastructure and economy of Gaza are severely damaged, as many buildings, roads, power lines, and water pipes have been destroyed or damaged by the Israeli attacks.
The people of Gaza also face the psychological trauma of living under constant fear, stress, and grief, as they witness the death and injury of their family members, friends, and neighbours. Many children have lost their parents, siblings, or classmates, and have been scarred for life by the horrors of war.
The people of Gaza also face the political uncertainty of the future, as they do not know what will happen to their aspirations for freedom, justice, and dignity, and whether they will ever see an end to the Israeli occupation and blockade. They also do not know what will happen to the role and influence of Hamas, which has been ruling Gaza since 2007, and whether it will be able to maintain its legitimacy and popularity among the people, or whether it will face more challenges and criticism from its rivals and opponents.
The people of Gaza have shown remarkable resilience and courage in the face of adversity, but they also need the support and solidarity of the international community, which has the moral and legal responsibility to protect them and to help them achieve their rights and their peace.