'My family are at risk of dying any second': Highland doctor's plea to save family in Gaza
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An Inverness hospital consultant has spoken of his despair in trying to save his family who are trapped in grim living conditions in a refugee camp in Gaza.
Salim Ghayyda is in daily fear for the lives of his elderly parents, brothers and sisters along with his extended family who are paying the human cost as they find themselves caught up in the intensifying Israel-Hamas war.
Dr Ghayyda, a paediatric consultant at Raigmore Hospital, is desperately trying any means possible to get them to safety including a heartfelt plea via an online funding campaign while supporters are lobbying politicians.
The British Palestinian, who has lived and worked in the UK for 21 years, also spoke of his heartache at seeing TV and media images of hospitals in Gaza where he once treated patients as a young doctor being bombarded.
The constant anguish and sense of hopelessness has taken its toll on Dr Ghayyda who described how 31 family members, including children, many of whom are living in self-built tents near Rafah, the border crossing with Egypt, after being uprooted several times.
They have the bare minimum of access to water, food or minimum basic needs while the toilet is a hole in the ground screened by a tarpaulin.
Drinking water is collected in buckets. Raw sewage flows through the streets. At night, the temperatures plummet.
"I feel ashamed that I am living a privileged life here in the UK while my family are at risk of dying at any second, if not from bombs, it will be from starvation, dehydration or disease," Dr Ghayyda said.
"Unfortunately they are trapped in Gaza as they don’t have British citizenship like me.
"They are not permitted to pass through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.
"Shamefully, the UK has not granted any assistance to British citizens in my position to evacuate their families as is similar in other war zones, so they are trapped refugees."
Dr Ghayyda, who was born and grew up in Gaza, has five brothers and three sisters whose occupations include accountants, a nurse, a radiographer, a primary school teacher and a personal assistant.
Their father, Nabil, now in his 80s with health problems including diabetes, is the retired head electric engineer for the Gaza electricity company.
He was born in the city of Lod and was forcibly moved to Gaza following the creation of the state of Israel.
Their mother, Dalal, who is in her 70s, is "the mother of all mothers", said Dr Ghayyda. "She is my life," he said.
Although his parents have found shelter in a flat in Rafah, the conditions are equally grim.
His nephews and nieces are typical young people, interested in fashion and Instagram and with plans to study.
"They had hopes but those hopes are now shattered," he said.
The family lived in the north of the Gaza strip but fled south after Israel began its offensive after the October 7 attack by Hamas gunmen who killed 1300 people and took about 250 others hostage.
Since then, at least 25,700 people in Gaza – mainly women and children – have been killed, according to the latest reported figures.
"It is heartbreaking," Dr Ghayyda said. "I condemn the killing of any civilian whether it is Palestinian, Israeli or any nationality.
"Imagine two mothers being killed every day in Gaza, or one child being killed every 10 minutes. It's unbelievable."
After the family fled south, they managed to find accommodation in a flat with another family but the area was being bombed every night and they returned to Gaza city having decided they would rather be killed in their own home.
"Imagine your dad in his 80s saying he would rather die with dignity in his own home," Dr Ghayyda reflected tearfully.
"He had accepted his fate. How, as his son, could I accept his fate?"
But as the bombing and shelling intensified, the family evacuated to Khan Younis in the south – a journey made mainly on foot and carrying a sick elderly great aunt – but that too was unsafe and they moved to Rafah.
One of his brothers remained in the north with his wife and their sick baby who was too ill to travel.
Although Dr Ghayyda has been unable to contact him, other family members have had occasional reports.
"As things have unfolded, the death toll has shocked me," he said.
"I am so worried about my family. I couldn't sleep especially in the first few weeks. I would be awake for 24 hours worrying whether they are okay, are they still alive?
"I became a nervous wreck."
He says he just wants to get his family out and he also believes the British and Scottish governments should be doing more to help British people like him with families in Gaza.
"They have helped a lot of Ukrainian refugees," he said. "I don't understand what is different about Palestinians.
"My government is choosing not to help me."
Dr Ghayyda, who has worked at Raigmore Hospital for the past 11 years, and his wife, have three children and regard the Highlands as home.
In a desperate plea to get his family to safety, Dr Ghayyda has launched an online appeal on Go Fund Me to raise £100,000 to send to his family to help them cross into Egypt in safety. So far, more than £10,000 has been pledged.
He also has the backing of the Highland-Palestine group which is urging people via social media page to email Inverness MP Drew Hendry seeking support.
Dr Ghayyda added: "I just want an immediate ceasefire and peace and justice for all."