Trapped in Gaza: a Spanish woman’s tale

7th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The native of Seville says her family of four have become prisoners of their home as it is too dangerous to leave.

JERUSALEM – Twice in three days, Spaniard Maria Velasco tried to get out of the Gaza Strip, but each time fighting between Israel and Hamas militants forced her to return to a home where she now has nothing left.

Velasco, married to a Palestinian doctor and a resident of the beleaguered territory for 12 years, says Gaza is being destroyed by the Israeli bombing and invasion.

"We have lost heart. This is genocide," she told AFP in a telephone interview from her house in the southern town of Khan Yunis.

"All we have left is a little cheese, ham and bread," said the native of Seville, one of a tiny number of foreigners still left in the conflict zone.

"Last night (the Israeli planes) were bombing. The windows shook, much of Khan Yunis has been destroyed," Velasco said. "My two-year-old son is so scared of the bombs."

Velasco, her husband and their two children were told to be ready to leave the territory, which has been under attack from Israel since 27 December, on Sunday.

But fighting forced the postponement of their departure by 24 hours.

"We were to take the Erez Crossing on Monday," she said. "But they attacked with mortars and there were clashes. Thank God, the Spanish consul had warned us before we arrived at the border."

Around 400 foreigners managed to get out of Gaza last Friday. Another 270 had been set to do so on Monday, but their hopes were dashed when Israel suspended the operation because of the fighting.

Velasco worked as an administrator at the same military hospital where her husband, whom she met in Spain, works as a doctor.

She said she believes Hamas deliberately staged the attack near the border crossing to stop the foreigners leaving.

A prisoner in her own home because it is too dangerous to leave, she fears that Hamas may use the foreigners as a "bargaining chip" with Israel.

"I do not know what will become of us," said the distraught woman. "What are they achieving with these bombs? Nothing. The only solution is to negotiate."

Velasco despairs of being able to leave now because the borders are sealed off, except for the tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle in weapons and supplies. "We will have to get out any way we can," she said.

"I want to go back to Spain and never come back here," she added.

She has been asking the Spanish consul for help to leave the Gaza Strip for the past month because conditions were becoming impossible with no power, water or food because of an Israeli blockade for the past 18 months.

First there were delays with getting the paperwork past the Israeli authorities.

Spanish diplomatic sources told AFP that the Madrid government had been told about Velasco's case and was working urgently on it.

The sources also said there were other Spaniards caught in the Hamas-Israel conflict, but they did not provide numbers.

[AFP / Expatica]

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