A family from Medway, Massachusetts, that has been stuck in Gaza for the past three weeks is still alive but desperate for a way out of the country as the war continues to escalate.
Abood Okal and Wafaa Abuzayda were visiting family in northern Gaza with their 1-year-old son, Yousef, when Hamas launched a surprise attack in Israel on Oct. 7. Despite assurances from federal and state leaders that an evacuation plan is in the works, the Medway family is still waiting.
Family friend Sammy Nabulsi shared audio from Okal with NBC10 Boston on Saturday, in which the Medway father says they barely slept Friday night as they try to stay alive while waiting for a way to safety.
“We all huddled together, so close so that in case something happens unpredicted, we would all at least face the same fate. We would stay together or basically be gone together,” Okal said. “Every night we try to sandwich Yousef in between us. This way in case of the house was targeted for some reason or if a nearby bombing happens, in case of any flying debris, or shattered glass made its way, at least he would be protected to some degree.”
“Last night was probably the hardest for us since the beginning of the war,” he added.
According to Okal, food supplies are okay for the family since they made their last run, but drinking water is becoming harder to secure. He said they rely on local vendors or filtration stations but they’ve been hearing in the last couple of days that the fuel supply is nearly depleted.
“We’ll try to go out again today and secure some drinking water when we feel that it’s safe enough to step outside,” he said.
According to Okal, they still have no official updates from the U.S. State Department regarding when they can expect to leave Gaza and head home to safety back in the states.
“We remain hopeful that they’re working on our behalf as has been communicated to us in the past. We remain hopeful that it will happen any day. That’s what we tell ourselves. That’s the only way for us to keep going,” he said. “If we lose that hope or if we believe otherwise, we could end up in a very dark space psychologically so we’re trying to stay strong and we’re trying to live another day.”
President Joe Biden previously released a statement saying they will “continue to work around the clock, in partnership with Egypt and Israel, to facilitate the ability of U.S. citizens and their immediate family members to exit Gaza safely and travel via Egypt to their final destinations.”
During a press briefing Thursday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller acknowledged “a number” of civilians have died in Gaza and they’re “working to do everything” they can to “minimize civilian harm.”
Israel on Saturday expanded its ground operation in Gaza, sending in tanks and infantry backed by massive strikes from the air and sea. The bombardment, described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war, also knocked out most communications in Gaza and signaled a gradual ramping up toward what is expected to evolve into an all-out ground offensive in northern Gaza.
“We moved to the next stage in the war,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in remarks broadcast Saturday. “Last evening, the ground shook in Gaza. We attacked above ground and underground. … The instructions to the forces are clear. The campaign will continue until further notice.”
The Palestinian death toll in Gaza on Saturday rose to just over 7,700 people since Oct. 7, with 377 deaths reported since late Friday and an estimated 1,700 people still trapped beneath the rubble, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. A majority of those killed have been women and minors, the ministry said.
The World Health Organization appealed to “the humanity in all those who have the power to do so to end the fighting now” in Gaza.
Across Gaza, terrified civilians were huddling in homes and shelters with food and water supplies running out. Electricity was knocked out by Israel in the early stages of the war.
More than 1.4 million people have fled their homes, nearly half crowding into U.N. schools and shelters, following repeated warnings by the Israeli military that they would be in grave danger if they remained in northern Gaza.
The military renewed such warnings Saturday, in leaflets dropped over Gaza. A large number of residents have not evacuated to the south, in part because Israel has also bombarded targets in so-called safe zones where conditions are increasingly dire.