A 6-year-old Palestinian girl and two rescuers who went looking for her nearly two weeks ago were found dead on Saturday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, ending a desperate attempt to discover their fate.
Two Red Crescent rescuers were sent in an ambulance on the evening of January 29 to find Hind Rajab, who was reportedly trapped in a vehicle in Gaza City with six dead family members. The aid group said they were killed by Israeli fire.
A Red Crescent statement on Saturday accused Israeli forces of bombing the ambulance as it arrived “a few meters from the vehicle containing the trapped Hind child”, killing the two rescuers inside. This happened “despite prior coordination” between the Red Crescent and the Israeli army.
The Red Crescent shared an image of the ambulance charred and almost unrecognizable on social networks.
Neither the Red Crescent nor members of Hind’s family who were in the area when the ambulance arrived on January 29 reported fighting between Israeli forces and armed Palestinians, although this could not be independently verified.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Red Crescent allegations. The military said last week it was unaware of the incident.
A Red Crescent spokesperson said the girl’s family discovered the bodies of their loved ones and the ambulance crew. It was not immediately clear how Hind died.
Since the rescuers went missing, the Red Cross has issued a series of desperate messages, trying to draw attention to the heartbreaking situation.
The search was hampered by the continued presence of Israeli forces in the area, making it too dangerous to send additional rescuers to the scene, according to the Red Crescent.
Israel’s aerial bombardments and ground invasion of Gaza have killed more than 27,000 people in Gaza over the past four months, according to the territory’s health authorities. More than 12,000 of the dead are children, according to Gaza authorities.
The United Nations children’s agency Unicef said Friday that more than 600,000 children and their families have been displaced to the southern Gaza town of Rafah.
Israel’s war in Gaza began after Hamas launched a cross-border attack on Israel that Israeli authorities say killed around 1,200 people.
The two members of the ambulance team, Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al Madhoun, were sent after a Red Crescent dispatcher spent three hours on the phone trying to console Hind while she was trapped in the car .
The Red Crescent said it coordinated the ambulance’s movements with the Israeli army. Similar coordination is carried out by other humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza, including UN agencies.
Some humanitarian groups reported that convoys had come under fire.
The two rescuers confirmed that they arrived at the scene of the vehicle in Gaza City’s Tal al-Hawa neighborhood around 6 p.m. on January 29. The Red Crescent then lost contact with them and has not heard from them since.
Israeli tanks and military forces remained nearby, preventing the Red Crescent from sending more rescuers to the scene, the humanitarian organization said.
After the tanks were removed, Hind’s family went to the scene and found that she had died in the vehicle and that the Red Crescent ambulance had been hit, with the two rescuers dead inside, said Nebal Farsakh, spokesperson for the Red Crescent. She added that the family had notified the Red Crescent and sent them photos.
Tor Wennesland, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said In a social media post, when an ambulance appears to have been attacked on its way to rescue the child, it raises serious questions that need to be answered.
“She was found 12 days after her overwhelming plea for help, and I can’t imagine the horrors she went through,” Mr Wennesland said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement statement he was “heartbroken” by reports that Hind and Red Crescent rescuers had been killed and strongly condemned the attacks on health workers.
“Civilians must be protected: no child should ever be terrified for their life, surrounded by the bodies of their family members,” the Red Cross said. “The fact that these are potentially Hind’s final moments is unbearable.”
Rawan Sheikh Ahmad reports contributed.