A 6-year-old Palestinian girl and the two rescuers who went looking for her nearly two weeks ago were found dead on Saturday, the Palestine Red Crescent said, ending a desperate effort to discover their fates.
Two rescuers with the Red Crescent were dispatched in an ambulance on the evening of Jan. 29 to find Hind Rajab, who was believed to be trapped in a vehicle in Gaza City with six dead family members. The aid group said they had been killed by Israeli fire.
A Red Crescent statement on Saturday accused Israeli forces of bombing the ambulance as it arrived “just meters away from the vehicle containing the trapped child Hind,” and killing the two rescuers inside. It said this happened “despite prior coordination” between the Red Crescent and the Israeli military.
The Red Crescent shared an image of the charred and nearly unrecognizable ambulance on social media.
Neither the Red Crescent nor Hind’s family members who were in the area around the time the ambulance arrived on Jan. 29 reported any fighting between Israeli forces and armed Palestinians there, though this could not be independently verified.
The Israeli military did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the Red Crescent’s allegations. The military said last week that it was not aware of the incident.
A spokeswoman for the Red Crescent said that the girl’s family had discovered the bodies of their relatives and the ambulance crew. It was not immediately clear how Hind died.
The Red Cross had issued a series of desperate posts since the rescuers went missing, trying to draw attention to the harrowing situation.
The search was hampered by the ongoing presence of Israeli forces in the area, making it too dangerous to send more rescuers to the scene, according to the Red Crescent.
Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza has left more than 27,000 people in Gaza dead in the past four months, according to health authorities in the territory. More than 12,000 of the dead are children, according to Gazan authorities.
The U.N. agency for children, Unicef, said on Friday that more than 600,000 children and their families have been displaced to the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
Israel’s war in Gaza began after Hamas staged a cross-border attack on Israel which Israeli authorities said killed about 1,200 people.
The two ambulance team members, Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al-Madhoun, were sent after a Red Crescent dispatcher spent three hours on the phone trying to console Hind as she was trapped in the car.
The Red Crescent said it had coordinated the movements of the ambulance with the Israeli military. Similar coordination is done by other aid organizations operating in Gaza, including U.N. agencies.
Some aid groups have reported convoys coming under fire.
The two rescuers confirmed arriving at the scene of the vehicle in Gaza City, in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood, at about 6 p.m. on Jan 29. Then the Red Crescent lost contact with them and had not heard from them since.
The Israeli military’s tanks and forces remained in the vicinity, preventing the Red Crescent from sending other rescuers to the scene, the aid group said.
After the tanks withdrew, Hind’s family went to the area and saw that she was dead in the vehicle and the Red Crescent ambulance had been hit, with the two rescuers dead inside, said Nebal Farsakh, a spokeswoman for the Red Crescent. She added that the family notified the Red Crescent and sent them photos.
“What can we say to the mother of 6-year-old Hind? What can we say to the families of our missing colleagues Youssef Zeino and Ahmed al-Madhoon?” the Red Crescent’s final post on the case said on Friday, before the group received confirmation that they were all dead.
“Every day for the past 11 days they have endured the heart-wrenching uncertainty about the location of their loved ones. Their suffering makes us more determined to find out what happened. We must learn the truth.”
Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting.