It started as a vacation but this trip was no holiday.
For Canadians Suhar Yousef and Amir Yousef, landing at Toronto Pearson International Airport after 36 days in the Gaza Strip ended an uncertain and terrifying adventure that began as a simple family visit.
Five days after they arrived in Gaza, Hamas launched an attack on Israel that sparked weeks of ongoing violence.
The Israeli government responded by declaring war on the group and beginning weeks of air strikes, and an eventual ground operation in the Gaza Strip.
Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have died in the fighting, and millions of civilians have been largely trapped in Gaza contending with dwindling food, fuel and water.
“It was dangerous,” said Amir, speaking to journalists in the Toronto airport’s arrivals hall with his wife at his side.
“They killed my big brother,” he said, describing the unexpected death amidst the aerial bombardment and fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Despite the pain and terror of weeks in the middle of violence in the Middle East, Amir said he was grateful he and his wife were able to make home to Canada.
He and his wife were among the Canadians able to leave the Gaza Strip at the Rafah crossing, where it borders Egypt.
Global Affairs Canada has reported some Canadians on the list of people being allowed to cross into Egypt and move from there to Canada.
“We are lucky we crossed to Egypt and everything was okay,” Amir said.
For the weeks they were trapped in the Gaza Strip, the couple had communicated with Suhar’s son, who was in the Toronto area.
He had been trying desperately to get his parents home, waiting anxiously for updates over the phone to see if they were still safe.
“It was pretty bad all over,” Abdul Eqdaih. “When I could speak to them, places around them were getting bombed. No place was safe.”
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He arrived at the airport before their EgyptAir flight from Cairo landed. Eqdaih stood in arrivals, repeatedly scanning the board for news of the plane’s progress.
Eqdaih said he had booked his parents a one-way ticket the moment they crossed into Egypt. He picked the first flight available, anxious to see his parents end their terrifying journey.
“I can’t wait to see them, it was a hard month for us,” he said minutes before they walked through the sliding double doors into the arrivals hall at Canada’s largest airport.
Eqdaih rushed over and held his mother in a long embrace, weeks of anxieties and dangers at an end for the couple and their son.
He said their safety is something he didn’t take for granted, given the uncertainties and dangers faced by everyone living in the region.
Amir Yousef reflected for a moment on the war before leaving the airport: “Israelis and Palestinians like to live in peace. We are against war,” he said.
More Canadians leaving Gaza are expected to return from Cairo on another EgyptAir flight on Thursday.
— with files from Global News’ Isaac Callan
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