Belfast-born dad reunited with children fleeing Gaza

Khalid El-Estal, four year old son Ali and one year old daughter Sara in Dublin Airport with their uncle Mohammed Jendia
Khalid El-Estal, his four year old son Ali and one year old daughter Sara in Dublin Airport with their uncle Mohammed Jendia

A Belfast-born man who lost his wife, his mother and other family members in a bomb in Gaza has been reunited with his young children in Dublin Airport.

Khalid El-Estal vowed to look after his four-year-old son Ali and one-year-old daughter Sara in honour of his wife Ashwak Jendia who died last month.

The children left Gaza via Egypt with assistance from the Irish government.

They are among more than 50 Irish-Palestinian citizens and dependents who have travelled to Ireland with help from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

"Finally we did it, but we lost a lot – we lost their mum and my mum and my brother," Mr El-Estal told reporters at Dublin Airport.

"But it’s ok, we will be strong and I will take care of them."

He thanked everyone who joined him at the airport and asked for his wife and family to be remembered.

Mr El-Estal said the reunion was bittersweet.

“It is mixed emotion, you don’t understand what you feel,” he added.

“My little daughter, she don’t even know, she’s afraid of me, because I left when she was only three months.”

Mr El-Estal moved away from his family to work when his children were very young.

He had publicly appealed for help to get his children out of the war zone after five members of his family were killed in the same attack.

His wife, mother, brother, uncle and two cousins died in a bombing at an apartment block in Gaza.

Speaking to BBC's Sunday Sequence programme ahead of his expected reunion with his children, Mr El-Estal said he had "mixed emotions".

He said: "Of course I am excited and happy for them but I am thinking about my wife and how great it would be if she was with them."

Sara and Ali arrived into Dublin Airport on Sunday evening on a flight from Ciaro
Sara and Ali arrived into Dublin Airport on Sunday evening on a flight from Cairo

'Dangerous journey'

Mr El-Estal was working in Saudi Arabia when his wife was killed.

He returned to Belfast a few weeks ago and sought diplomat assistance to get his children to safety.

He told the BBC of the children's "very difficult, dangerous" journey, travelling from Khan Yunis in Gaza to the border crossing at Rafah.

With a communication blackout in the territory, Mr El-Estal was left without information as the children made the journey.

"They spent all the day on the border... I didn't know until they made it to Egypt."

'Welcome news'

Born in Belfast, he attended primary school in the Botanic area while his father worked as a lecturer at Queen's University.

When he was aged eight, the family relocated to Gaza, where he met his wife Ashwak at university.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 12,300 people have been killed in the territory since Israel began its campaign last month.

Israel launched air strikes in response to an assault on 7 October when Hamas gunmen entered Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages.

The first group of Irish citizens and their dependants returned to Dublin Airport from Gaza on Saturday.

Meanwhile, former Irish president Mary Robinson has co-signed an open letter to US President Joe Biden calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The letter, signed by a group of former international leaders known as The Elders, of which Mrs Robinson is chair, urged the president to lead international efforts in resolving the situation between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We have to see a new vision for peace and an American leadership of a coalition to achieve that," she told the BBC's Sunday Politics programme.

However, Mrs Robinson said it would be impossible to reach an agreement while the current leaderships of both Israeli and Palestinian sides remained in place.

She described the Israeli government as "very right-wing", adding that it showed "no sign at the best of times of being willing to see the need for a state of Palestine".

"On the contrary we've seen Jewish supremacy talked about very openly," she said.

Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson is a former president of Ireland

'Speak with a moral voice'

Mrs Robinson said she was "shocked" when she visited the region in February with former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

She said it was important that Ireland is prepared to speak with a "moral voice" on the conflict.

There is a need to "recognise the injustice of the occupation" while being "very clear that Israel has a right to defend itself, that its absolutely vital to get the hostages released", she added.

Mrs Robinson, 79, was Irish president from 1990 to 1997.

She was a UN high commissioner for human rights between 1997 and 2002.

You can see the interview with her in full on the BBC iPlayer.

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