After enduring what his daughter has described as a “nightmare journey” through the war-torn Gaza Strip, 73-year-old Akram Al-Sabbagh, a Canadian citizen of over 30 years, has found temporary refuge in a Cairo hotel. His family is now working tirelessly to arrange his return to Canada as he recovers from the harrowing ordeal.
Akram Al-Sabbagh was trapped in northern Gaza when conflict erupted between Hamas and Israel following the Oct. 7 attacks by the militant group. His daughter, Samah Al-Sabbagh, spoke with CBC News on Monday and recounted the grueling journey her father undertook to reach safety.
“He just needs some time to rest, and we will hopefully get him back home as soon as he can,” Samah Al-Sabbagh told CBC News with palpable relief in her voice.
As Israeli forces advanced on the ground and airstrikes continued, Akram Al-Sabbagh desperately sought to escape northern Gaza, where he had been visiting family. It took him three agonizing days before he was allowed to cross into Egypt via the Rafa border crossing, which had temporarily closed due to the conflict.
Samah Al-Sabbagh, who had been in constant contact with her father via cellphone, described the challenging communication conditions. She also reached out to other Canadians making the same perilous journey and relied on updates from their relatives on the ground when she couldn’t connect with her father.
Once Akram finally crossed into Egypt on Sunday morning local time, he faced a further five-hour wait aboard a bus bound for Cairo, along with others who had made the same arduous trip.
Reflecting on the ordeal, Samah Al-Sabbagh said, “It was a nightmare journey for him… He had to walk for like five to six kilometres on foot with his hands up, with shootings taking place and missiles shot toward them. I couldn’t believe it. I was in tears when he was telling me what happened for him to get from the north to the south.”
The conflict that began on Oct. 7 has taken a devastating toll on both sides. Hamas militants stormed into Israel, resulting in an estimated 1,200 casualties and the abduction of approximately 240 individuals back into Gaza. Israel responded with relentless daily air and land strikes, causing the Hamas-run Health Ministry to report casualties in Gaza exceeding 11,000.
Israel urged residents of Gaza to seek safety by leaving the northern region, but this involved a perilous journey through the war-torn enclave, situated between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Canadian Embassy in Egypt has provided critical assistance to those who crossed the Rafah border into Egypt, including support for travel to Cairo, as well as food and accommodation until onward travel arrangements can be made. The Egyptian government has granted people who cross the border up to 72 hours in the country.
Now that Akram Al-Sabbagh has reached Cairo, the next challenge he faces is booking a flight back home to Canada. He had already been ticketed for a flight next week but is endeavoring to secure an earlier departure. However, with more than 200 other Canadians recently making the same journey out of Gaza and into Egypt, booking available flights may prove to be a formidable task.
Despite the trials he has endured, the Al-Sabbagh family remains grateful for Akram’s safe arrival in Cairo. Samah concluded, “We’re happy that he made it. He’s going to need a lot of counseling after what he saw there.”
According to CBC News, Akram Al-Sabbagh’s return to Canada is eagerly awaited by his family, who hope to reunite with him soon as he embarks on his journey to recovery from the traumatic experience in Gaza.