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Irish citizen who fled Gaza says family unable to escape

An Irish citizen who was reunited with his children in Dublin last year after the death of their mother in Gaza, has said that his father and two brothers, who are also Irish citizens, have been unable to flee the war-torn enclave.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that the Government is still trying to help around 40 dependents of Irish citizens escape the region.

When the Israeli bombardment of Gaza began last October, Irish citizen Khalid El-Astal – who grew up in Belfast and who had been working in Saudi Arabia – came to Ireland to begin efforts to get his family to safety here.

But his wife Ashwak and one of his brothers were killed in Israeli bombing which destroyed their home.

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In late November, Mr El-Astal’s brother-in-law Mohammed managed to get his three-year-old son Ali and his one-year-old daughter Sara out of Gaza as part of the evacuation of around 50 Irish citizens and their dependents from the region.

Mr El-Astal had an emotional reunion with them in Dublin Airport and is now raising the children in an apartment in south Dublin with the help of his brother-in-law Mohammed.

He has also spent the past five months trying to get his father, who was a researcher in Queens University in Belfast and his two brothers who were born in Belfast, back to Ireland.

But he said that so far his efforts have been unsuccessful.

Recently Mr El-Astal received a picture of his father and brothers in the tent they are now living in in Khan Younis.

He said contact with them has been sporadic as they have no access to electricity, the internet or smart phones.

“I saw a photo of my dad for the first time in six months. And he looks at least ten years older,” Mr El-Astal said.

“My brother, he was injured and he broke his neck. And so it’s very very bad. The situation is very bad.”

Khalid El-Astal (L) pictured with his son Ali, daughter Sara and brother-in-law Mohammad

He said his worry about the safety of his family members is compounded by the grief he is still coming to terms with following the death of his wife and brother, along with the challenge of caring for his two young children.

Mr El-Astal said he was also fundraising to try and pay for his families evacuation through private channels but that this could cost thousands of euro and provides no guarantee that they can exit the region.

“It’s not easy to manage dealing with this loss, it’s still not easy. Especially when my family members are still in Gaza like my dad and my two brothers. I’m feeling desperate and I’m feeling helpless.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said that it has assisted 95 Irish citizens and their dependents in leaving Gaza.

Mr Martin said that there are around 40 dependents of Irish citizens still in Gaza and his department is working to help them leave the region.

“We don’t govern the situation within Gaza so the Israeli authorities decide on who can be let out,” Mr Martin said.

“We do advocate on behalf of people with the Israeli authorities and then the Egyptian authorities in terms of facilitating their exit from Gaza. And we are going to continue to advocate on their behalf.”

Meanwhile, the El-Astal family are adapting to life in Ireland.

Ali, who is now four-years-old, is attending a local pre-school and will start Junior Infants in September.

Brother-in-law Mohammed is learning Irish and helping Mr El Estal with looking after Sara who will be two in August.

As they sit around a laptop singing along to the Dubliners version of ‘Óró, Sé do bheatha ‘bhaile’ Mr El Estal said that it would be a dream to have the rest of his family with him in Dublin, to allow them to start rebuilding their lives here after the nightmare they have endured.

“We have a great connection with Ireland. I can’t imagine my life anywhere else,” he said.

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