Gaza 'miracle survivor' Asmaa succumbs to her injuries

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Paul Adams' report - first broadcast on Tuesday - captured the moment a woman was pulled alive from rubble, though she later died from her injuries

The BBC's Paul Adams in Gaza reports on the death of a 24-year-old Palestinian woman, Asmaa el-Helou, who despite terrible injuries initially survived an Israeli artillery attack on her home in Shejaiya on Sunday. The strike killed 10 members of her family.

A doctor at Shifa Hospital described Asmaa el-Helou as a "miracle".

She lay under the collapsed concrete of her uncle's house in Shejaiya for 12 hours before being rescued.

Her injuries were terrible. She was badly burned and doctors were not sure if they could save her leg.

But attached to monitors, ventilated and sedated, she clung to life.

"She's strong. She's a miracle," said Dr Ahmad al-Moghrabi.

But the miracle did not last. Asmaa died on Tuesday night, a few hours after we last saw her.

Image caption,
Rescuers found critically injured Asmaa el-Helou after she had been buried in the rubble for 12 hours
Image caption,
Parts of Gaza have been subjected to more than two weeks of relentless shelling
Image caption,
Rescuers saw the hand of Asmaa el-Helou underneath a pile of rubble

'Hellish subterranean world'

When we spoke again on Wednesday morning, Dr al-Moghrabi acknowledged it was always going to be touch and go. In the end, it was Asmaa's kidneys that failed, a common enough complication after such catastrophic injuries.

We have singled out Asmaa's story. Her rescue, in the midst of gunfire on Sunday afternoon, was profoundly moving and a moment of high drama.

The first glimpse I caught of her was her blackened, burned right hand, pointing from some hellish subterranean world of shattered concrete and twisted metal.

The hand was shaking, and as rescuers bent close, they could also hear that she was making a sound, murmuring incoherently.

For 12 hours, she must have listened as explosions echoed all around and gun battles erupted.

Before the emergency team arrived, during a shaky afternoon truce, her cousin, Mohammed el-Helou, had tried frantically to get her out. But he and his friends simply could not move the largest concrete block pinning her down.

Asmaa was conscious; asking after her family members, and for her friend, Hanan. She said she wanted to see her before she died.

What she did not know was that her family was no more.

Her father, Jihad, and mother, Ciham, were already dead. So were her two brothers, Mohammed and Ahmad, and her two sisters, Najiyah and Tahriya.

Ahmad's wife and their three children - Mariam, aged two, and twin boys, Karem and Kareem, aged six months - had also been killed.

Image caption,
Mohammed el-Helou kept vigil outside his cousin's hospital room after trying to dig her out of the rubble

Israel describes Shejaiya as a Hamas stronghold. For three days, it warned the area's 80,000 residents to leave.

Some did, but most did not. When Israel's ferocious assault finally came, it was entirely inevitable that large numbers of civilians would die.

The final tally may never be known - they are still pulling bodies out.

On Tuesday afternoon at Shifa Hospital there were gruesomely familiar scenes of pandemonium when another corpse was rushed in.

After three days in the heat, it was badly decomposed. The stench and the screams in Shifa's narrow corridors were almost unbearable.

In the burns unit, on Monday, Asmaa's hand was still shaking. As we spoke with her doctor, her badly burned head occasionally shook too.

Outside her room, the hard-pressed staff of the burns unit paused to pray. But some had to break off when a small girl arrived on a stretcher, wailing in pain.

At Shifa, there is not much time to dwell on a single death.

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