When Swiss doctor Raouf Salti realized he could not go to Gaza to help injured children, he decided he would do everything he could to get them to Geneva to receive medical care.
After dealing with swathes of red tape, Salti got permission to have four children, including a 16-year-old who lost a kidney and has already had his leg amputated, cross into Egypt from Gaza and then fly to Switzerland on Monday.
Salti, who went to Egypt to pick them up, waved as he was greeted by his team at Geneva airport with Zeina, a wide-eyed 17-month-old who was rescued from under the rubble in Gaza, in his arms.
“When I saw that the situation kept getting worse, I decided that my mission this time would be to go there and bring them here,” said Salti, who has taken part in several international humanitarian trips to Gaza as well as other parts of the Middle East and Africa over the past 14 years.
Salti, a urological surgeon and himself a descendant of Palestinian refugees, had been scheduled to travel to Gaza on Oct. 19 to carry out operations including a planned kidney surgery on a toddler.
But his humanitarian mission, part of his work as founder of an NGO called Children’s Right for Healthcare, was called off due to the Israeli offensive launched in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas gunmen.
The four children who arrived in Geneva on Monday are the second group that Salti has managed to evacuate to Switzerland, bringing their total number to eight. The children have been granted 90-day visas to receive medical care.
“What is important is giving them a normal life, with people, calm, peace and love. A child’s life,” Salti said after arriving at his office with the children and their mothers.
The four were chosen with help from his contacts in Gaza on the basis that they were well enough to travel and that they could be helped in Switzerland.
Sixteen-year-old Yussef, who lost his left leg and had his kidney crushed in an Israeli attack, is emaciated, weighing less than 30 kg (66 pounds). Doctors in Gaza amputated the remainder of the leg that had been blown off, but he still needs to gain strength and ultimately be given a prosthetic.
Zeina, the 17-month-old, was initially treated at Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest facility in the Gaza Strip, which was raided by Israeli forces in November.
Her tiny left arm, supported by a sling, sustained several fractures that doctors attempted to repair using an external fixation but the structure had to be removed due to an infection.
“You can’t talk about sterile (equipment) there anymore, it doesn’t exist,” Salti said.