'I saw my brother. I tried to wake him. He never woke'

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The Independent Online

The harrowing television pictures of 11-year-old Huda Ghalia screaming and distraught over her father's death on a Gaza beach last Friday went round the world, making her globally recognisable and, for Palestinians, an icon of their suffering.

But in a small northern Gaza hospital, away from the focus of the media, Huda's injured half-sister, Hadeel, eight, is struggling to come to terms with an even greater bereavement: while Huda's mother, Hamdia, is at least still alive, Hadeel is an orphan.

Hadeel Ghalia has now been told that she has lost not only her father, Ali, but her mother, Raisa, 35, and the five-month-old brother, Haytham, she used to play with. Riyad Assadi, the director of nursing at Al-Awda hospital, said she remained confused about the scale of her loss.

"Sometimes she seems to understand that her closest loved ones are dead and she said: 'My brother Haytham is flying with wings in paradise.' But not long afterwards she said she wanted a shekel to give her mother so she could 'buy a diaper.' She is too young really to comprehend what has happened. It's like a bad dream."

Mr Assadi said Hadeel would be kept in hospital until the "grieving atmosphere" around the Ghalia family which was all but wiped out by Friday's bombing, had abated. He said that, so far, she was sleeping and eating normally. "As she grows older she will start to grieve more."

Hadeel has been visited in hospital by both Huda and her half-brother Eyham, who is 20. "They all love each other very much," said Saher Ghalia, her late father's cousin, who was staying at the hospital with Hadeel.

She said: "Hadeel will never forget her brother. She has no father, no mother. It's terrible, but the family will all look after her."

Much of the time, Hadeel seemed to be normal, she said, but added: "She saw a mother who was breast-feeding her baby in the next room to her and she immediately burst into tears."

Mr Assadi, who talked to Hadeel very soon after she was brought in after the explosion last Friday, made a record of the conversation.

"My family were preparing the food as I was running toward my father," she said. "During that time, the Israelis bombed us. I saw my mother and aunt without faces. I also saw my father crying with a bloody body... Then I saw my brother, Haytham.

"He was asleep and tried to wake him up but he never woke. His body was covered with sand and blood. I brought a bottle of water and cleaned his body. Then I moved him to clean blanket and stayed by him."