Fares Akram: My daughter Somaya's birth is the first light in this darkness

<i>The Independent's</i> reporter in Gaza has lost his father and home to Israeli bombs &ndash; but today he is celebrating

Friday 16 January 2009 01:00

It has been the bloodiest, most violent day yet here in Gaza City. Israeli tanks came in from the south, shelling and bombing in the residential areas. But even with this death, bloodshed and chaos all around us, we are filled with joy. Twelve days after my father was killed by an Israeli airstrike, our first baby has been born, healthy at 3.8 kilos, with dark hair, just exactly as her mother wanted. I couldn't believe my eyes, seeing her for the first time. I kissed and hugged her softly. She cried when I took her in my arms.

On Wednesday evening as Alaa was in labour, there were signs of hope for an end to the conflict; we heard reports that Hamas had accepted the Egyptian plan for a ceasefire. "Perhaps our baby, and peace, would arrive together," I thought.

But overnight the Israelis escalated their attacks, targeting an area of the city called Tel al Hawa which is definitely not a Hamas stronghold. It is an area of big villas and where wealthier people live. I spoke to one of my friends who described terrible scenes, with injured people running into the streets. I called the International Committee of the Red Cross, they said they had suspended operations because tank fire hit the Al-Quds hospital causing panic and terror among survivors of earlier incidents. The UN building, struck by three shells, burned all day.

Alaa had been very frightened at the prospect of giving birth and, to make it even more terrifying, we could hear the bombing as we got in the taxi to the Shifa hospital. Conservative Muslim customs apply in public hospitals so I wasn't allowed in to the labour ward. It was disappointing, but Alaa's sister came out from time to time to tell me how it was going.

I knew the birth would take a long time, the doctors induced the labour. So I went down to the front entrance where the ambulances were arriving. From a civil defence fire engine, I saw eight wounded people taken out, all were civil defence staff still in their fluorescent jackets. A house near their base had been hit by a missile. They had rushed to evacuate the house but then another missile struck. It was a terrible sight. Most of them had their legs cut off from beneath the knee and severe shrapnel cuts.

All day yesterday, the Israelis intensified strikes on Gaza City and, at the emergency wing of the Shifa hospital, away from the calm of the maternity ward, the ambulances never stopped arriving. For 20 minutes, I watched the injured and dying coming in non-stop convoys of ambulances, ordinary vehicles, civilian cars, pickup trucks, anything that could be used to transport the casualties. Some of the wounded were burnt, some were cut very badly. Some were being sent directly to the morgue. I saw three cases where the medics did that. Most of the victims seemed to be women, girls, and children including a very small baby, wrapped in white blankets. Every day has been bad since this war began but this is the worst.

My mother joined us in the hospital. She managed to hold back the tears but I knew she was sad, thinking of my dad who would have been so happy to see his new granddaughter. And yet, I know that as one family member leaves us, another is born. It reminds you that life is a circle, a continuous thing.

We evacuated our home earlier this week, and then our apartment was badly damaged by blasts. After yesterday's violence, I feel we are not even safe in the hospital. I'm afraid for my wife and new daughter. I only hope Somaya's birth will be accompanied by the end of the violence and the killing. For our family, if not for the rest of Gaza, her birth is like a light in the dark.

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