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A fleeing Gaza family is killed along with the medics sent to find them

More than 28,000 Palestinians killed since the start of the war
Palestinians walk through the destruction left by the Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip in Gaza City, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Hajjar)

The sound of gunfire crackled over the phone as the teenage girl hid in the car and spoke. An Israeli tank was near the vehicle as she and her family were trying to heed Israel’s call to evacuate their home in Gaza.

Israeli troops were firing on the car, the teen said in terrified calls to relatives and emergency services. Everyone in the vehicle was killed except her and her 5-year-old female cousin, Hind, she said.

“They are shooting at us,” 15-year-old Layan told the Palestinian Red Crescent. “The tank is next to me.”

And then there was a burst of gunfire. She screamed and fell silent.

That call on Jan. 29 began a desperate rescue attempt by medics with the Palestinian Red Crescent, one of many during the war in Gaza. But after the organization sent an ambulance, it lost contact with the crew.

On Saturday, 12 days later, the ambulance was discovered, blackened and destroyed.

The two medics were dead. The Palestinian Red Crescent accused Israeli forces of targeting the ambulance as it pulled up near the family’s vehicle. The organization said it had coordinated the journey with Israeli forces as in the past.

The family car was found as well with six bodies, including Layan’s and Hind’s.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Movement around the tiny enclave carries deadly risk as Israel presses its ground and air offensive. Israel’s prime minister has announced plans for a ground invasion of the crammed southern city of Rafah and said well over a million people would need to move.

The Health Ministry in Gaza says about two-thirds of more than 28,000 people killed since the start of the war have been children and women. The ministry does not distinguish in its count between civilians and combatants.

Israel says it strikes Hamas targets and holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties because the militants fight from civilian areas.

The Hamada family was among more than 80% of Gaza’s population evacuating their homes. On Jan, 29, near a gas station in Gaza City, in an area designated by Israel as a combat zone, the family encountered a tank.

The circumstances of the shooting remain unclear.

But in a frantic call to her father’s brother, Omar, the teen Layan said troops were firing on them, Omar told the AP. Her great-uncle Bashar Hamada, his wife and two of their children were killed. Layan was wounded.

She pleaded with Omar to send an ambulance. He connected her with the Palestinian Red Crescent office in Ramallah, which hoped to instruct her how to save herself and anyone else alive.

It was too late.

The Palestinian Red Crescent dispatched an ambulance after Layan went silent. Hours later, it lost contact with the medics, Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al-Madhoun, as they arrived at the scene.

For days, the organization shared the story of Hind, her family and the missing medics on social media — even posting audio of the phone call with Layan — in a plea for help.

On Saturday, after Israeli troops withdrew from the area and civilians told the Palestinian Red Crescent about the bodies, it shared video of the ambulance, crumpled and burned. Nearby was a car said to be the family’s, smashed and riddled with bullet holes.

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The Associated Press