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Canadian with parents in Gaza fears illness might kill them amid terrible conditions

Ahmed Abudaya worries that even if near-constant airstrikes don’t kill his parents, the respiratory and bacterial infections spreading rapidly among displaced civilians in Gaza just might.  

The Alberta resident said his 78-year-old father and his 68-year-old mother, who is diabetic and has run out of medication, were forced from their home when the Israel-Hamas war began. Their terrible living conditions now have Abudaya fearing every call he has with them could be their last. 

“I’m not just worried about them being bombed anymore,” the 45-year-old said in a phone interview from his home in Airdrie, Alta.

“People are getting now a severe bacterial infection because of their water, like some sort of (food) poisoning or infection. If my parents catch that, there is a high chance that they won’t make it … They’re older people. It can kill them.”

This week, Doctors Without Borders said “every other patient” is now arriving at one of Gaza’s last-standing clinics in the south with a respiratory infection after prolonged exposure to cold and rain. 

Nicholas Papachrysostomou, an emergency co-ordinator with the group who is in Gaza, also said that in shelters where hundreds share a single toilet, diarrhea is widespread, particularly among children.

Abudaya – who has been appealing to the Canadian government to help get his parents out of Gaza – said his mother and father are living in a home with about 30 other people, 20 of whom are younger than 16 years old. 

There is no clean drinking water, or water available for those crammed into the home to wash themselves, he said. 

During phone calls with his parents, which have become more sporadic, Abudaya said they try to reassure him they are making do but that’s far from the reality. 

“Someone sent me a message recently saying that, ‘Your parents are suffering the most,” he said. “It’s really bad. Anything just can happen to them because of the living conditions alone.”

This is the second time his father has been displaced from his home, Abudaya said, and that is also bringing back past trauma. His father was three when his family fled to Gaza during the mass uprooting Palestinians call the “nakba,” or catastrophe, during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Abudaya said his father was able to leave Gaza to go to Egypt to study as a teen and then went on to work in Kuwait and Libya before settling in the United Arab Emirates. His parents lived in the U.A.E for years before deciding to return to their homeland to retire almost a decade ago, Abudaya said. 

They were living in their apartment in central Gaza when the war began on Oct. 7.

Abudaya said he has been trying for weeks to get his parents out of Gaza, reaching out to the Canadian government, as well as Egyptian and Israeli officials for help. 

He has submitted an application for a temporary visa for his parents to come to Canada, although most Canadians with extended family in Gaza have been told relatives beyond spouses and children wouldn’t qualify. 

Abudaya urged Canada to help. 

“If they can’t help with visas, at the very least, Canada should advocate for civilians to evacuate. At the very least, we can help them evacuate to Egypt,” he said. 

“I’m begging everyone to just get them out.”

The federal government has said it is considering ways to bring the extended family members of Canadians out of Gaza, but the tightly controlled border crossing from Gaza into Egypt remains a major obstacle.

Nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel declared war on Hamas, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. Thousands more lie buried under the rubble of Gaza, the UN estimates. 

Israel says 127 of its soldiers have died in its ground offensive after Hamas raided southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and taking about 240 hostages.

– With files from the Associated Press. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2023. 

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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