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‘I don’t believe that I’m alive right now’: Canadian recounts perilous journey from Gaza to Egypt

After a perilous journey from Gaza to Egypt, which included a five-kilometre walk on foot, with his hands up as missiles exploded around him, Akram Al-Sabbagh was welcomed by his relieved family at Toronto Pearson International Airport Tuesday morning.

Made part of the journey on foot; told wife what she should do after he died

Akram Al-Sabbagh is embraced by his daughter Samah as he's reunited with his family at Toronto Pearson International Airport after a perilous journey from northern Gaza to Cairo

After a perilous journey from northern Gaza to Egypt, which included a five-kilometre walk on foot with his hands up as missiles exploded around him, Akram Al-Sabbagh was welcomed by his relieved family at Toronto Pearson International Airport Tuesday morning.

Tears flowed from Al-Sabbagh's son, Mohammed, his daughter, Samah, and her four children as they rushed to embrace the weary 73-year-old after he arrived from Cairo.

"I'm so happy to see my … [family]. I'm back to my country and back again for good," Akram told reporters.

'Huge, huge relief'

Samah said they had been waiting so long for this day.

"It's a huge, huge relief," she said.

Akram, a London, Ont., resident and Canadian citizen for over 30 years, was visiting family in Gaza when Hamas militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing an estimated 1,200 people and taking roughly 240 others back into Gaza as hostages.

The massacre prompted Israel to declare war on Hamas, and it has responded with repeated air and land strikes on Gaza. Gaza's Hamas-run government said at least 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 5,600 children and 3,550 women.

WATCH | Man reunites with his family at Toronto's Pearson Airport:

73-year-old who walked north to south in Gaza returns to Canada

6 hours ago

Duration 0:59

Featured VideoA 73-year-old man who was first trapped in Gaza and then forced to walk from northern to southern Gaza to avoid Israeli airstrikes has reunited with his family at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

No Canadians were added Tuesday to a list of foreign nationals approved to cross into Egypt from the territory, where Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says about 200 people with ties to Canada are still waiting for a chance to get out, The Canadian Press reported.

Ottawa says more than 450 Canadians, permanent residents and their relatives have made the trip out of the Palestinian territory since the conflict began.

"No area [is] safe over there, anywhere in Gaza," Akram said.

He expressed some surprise that he was experiencing a reunion with his family, as he was unsure about whether he was going to make it out of the region.

Akram Al-Sabbagh says no area is safe in Gaza.

"I don't believe that I'm alive right now," he said.

"I told my wife on the phone, 'OK, I want to tell you what to do after I've died.' I didn't believe I'd come back."

Akram reached the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Friday night after a harrowing trip out of northern Gaza and south to the border.

Akram said he was rejected five times at the border, until he was finally allowed through on Sunday after waiting two nights for the border to reopen to Canadians who had been approved to enter Egypt.

He said part of his journey to the border included a five-kilometre trek by foot while carrying his luggage and passport, which he held over his head as he walked.

He said that two missiles exploded just behind him, but that he had to keep walking, not stop, even if he dropped something.

"Can't turn right, I can't turn left. If you do, [they] shoot you right away," he said.

"It's too hard to find food, too hard to find water, too hard to find bread, too hard to find anything to eat. Nothing," he said.

He said the border area itself was not safe, bombed twice while he was there.

Samah said while she's relieved that her father is back, it's a bittersweet moment.

"It's happiness, but filled with sorrow, because as we speak, there are still so many people getting killed," she said.

"We still have family there. We don't even know anything about them. We haven't been able to contact them at all."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

    With files from Andrew Lupton, The Canadian Press

    *****
    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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