Rescuers remain missing after trying to save Palestinian girl from trapped car

The mother of missing girl Hind Rajab is desperate to find her daughter.
The mother of missing girl Hind Rajab is desperate to find her daughter. Photo credit: CNN

Story by CNN

Demands for answers are mounting over the fate of 6-year-old Palestinian girl Hind Rajab, who became trapped in a car with her dead relatives after it came under Israeli fire in Gaza more than a week ago.

Mystery also surrounds the whereabouts of two ambulance staff from the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), who were dispatched to find her on January 29.

"We need to know what has happened to Hind and the PRCS ambulance team," the PRCS said in their latest statement on X early Tuesday.

"So many wonderful things can happen in a week, but for those waiting for news or for information a week is anguish. Each moment is marked by worry and sadness."

CNN gave the Israeli military details about the incident last Friday, including coordinates provided by the PRCS. In response, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it was "unfamiliar with the incident described."

Contacted again by CNN on Monday about the missing girl and PRCS crew, the IDF said they were "still looking into it."

Hind was traveling in a car with her uncle, his wife and their four children, fleeing fighting in northern Gaza, when they came under Israeli fire, according to the PRCS.

Hind's cousin, 15-year-old Layan Hamadeh, made a harrowing call for help to emergency services that was recorded by the PRCS and shared on social media.

In the clip, the teenager can be heard speaking to a paramedic, crying for help and describing a tank close by.

"They are shooting at us. The tank is right next to me. We're in the car, the tank is right next to us," Layan screams, amid intense gunfire in the background.

Layan then goes quiet, and the rounds of fire stop.

The paramedic on the phone tries to speak to her, repeatedly saying, "Hello? Hello?" but there is no response.

The PRCS believe that the six other people in the car with Hind, including Layan, were killed when the car was shot at.

Alone, terrified and trapped in the car with the bodies of her relatives around her, Hind made a desperate call for help.

"Come take me. Will you come and take me? I'm so scared, please come!" Hind can be heard saying in a recording of the call to responders, released by the PRCS.

PRCS said its responders stayed on the phone with Hind for more than three hours as they scrambled to dispatch an ambulance team - paramedics Yousef Zieno and Ahmed Almadhoun - to find her.

At the time, the group said that ambulances had been unable to reach the area as the Israeli military considered it a closed military zone and was targeting anyone attempting to move in the vicinity.

Rana Al-Faqueh, a PRCS response coordinator who stayed on the call with the girl, said Hind asked for the time because it was getting dark. "I'm afraid of the dark," she said, according to Al-Faqueh.

"Is there gunfire around you?" she asked. "Yes. Come get me," replied Hind.

In a statement, the PRCS said their rescue team arrived in the area where the young girl was trapped in the car, close to a Fares gas station, at 6 p.m. local time.

They then lost contact with the team and with Hind. It's unclear whether the team managed to reach the little girl.

They have not been heard from in eight days.

Health Ministry holds Israel responsible

On Saturday, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates (PMOFA) said it holds the Israeli government "fully and directly responsible" for the lives of Hind, and the two paramedics,  Zieno and Almadhoun, who went to rescue her.

"Their fate remains unknown," the foreign ministry said.

CNN asked the military on January 29 about its operations in the immediate area, and the IDF said its troops encountered and killed dozens of armed terrorists in battles in central Gaza.

"The troops were assisted by tank fire under the direction of field observers and infantry soldiers. In addition, the troops located large quantities of weapons in the area," the IDF said last Monday.

The PRCS has stepped up its appeal for answers, issuing more than two dozen statements and posts on social media site X demanding to know what happened to them.

"Where is Hind? Where are Yousef and Ahmed? Are they still alive? We want to know their fate," the humanitarian group said on Monday.

The PRCS said the case was "representative of all the suffering and brutality of the past few months," where Israel's intense bombing campaign of Gaza has killed 27,478 people, according to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, and triggered a catastrophic humanitarian crisis throughout the Palestinian territory, forcing close to two million people from their homes.

The lack of information about the missing paramedics and little girl was "really affecting the mental health of the PRCS staff and volunteers," the group said.

Hind's mother waits for answers outside hospital

No one is more desperate for answers than Hind's distraught mother, who had been waiting outside a Gaza hospital hoping her daughter would arrive "at any minute."

In video filmed by CNN on Friday, Wissam Hamada said she had brought her daughter's belongings to the hospital and waits in anguish for news.

"If my daughter didn't die from the bullets, she's going to die from the cold, from the hunger .. I call on the whole world to bring me back my daughter.... We want our innocent little girl. Hind is too young to be going through this. She is too young," Wissam told CNN.

"She is a little girl, her only dream is to be a doctor and treat people."

The girl's grandmother, Hind Hamada, said she was "hopeful" that her granddaughter would be returned "without delay."

She said Hind had called them from the car saying, "Come and get me, I want to go home, and I want my family."

"We want to take Hind to a hospital to treat her because she was injured," the grandmother said.

Although the family hope that the PRCS rescue crew are taking "care of her" daughter, they couldn't say so with any certainty.

"Every time I hear the sound of an ambulance, I go to the door and think my daughter is coming," Hind's mother Wissam told CNN.

"Every time I hear the sound of any strike, any shell, or a bullet my heart hurts because I think of this bullet being so close to my daughter. Any hit, I feel it's coming to my daughter."