19-year-old Catholic woman dies attempting to flee Gaza with her mother

Lara Al-Sayegh Lara Al-Sayegh, a Catholic from Gaza, collapsed and died of heatstroke as she and her mother tried to leave Gaza and find safe haven in Egypt on April 24, 2024. The 19-year-old lived in northern Gaza and the family had already lost their father and husband after he died at Gaza’s Latin Holy Family Church due to a lack of adequate medical care. | Credit: Fady Al-Sayegh

Among the heartbreaking stories to emerge from the war in Gaza is the death of a young Catholic woman named Lara Al-Sayegh. The 19-year-old Gazan perished while fleeing with her mother from the northern Gaza Strip to the south in a desperate attempt to reach Egypt and find safe haven. 

Midway through their arduous journey, Al-Sayegh succumbed to severe fatigue, lack of water, and fatal heatstroke. Tragically, her father had already been lost during the war when he died at Gaza’s Latin Holy Family Church due to a lack of adequate medical care.

A brother’s anguished testimony

In an exclusive interview with ACI Mena, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner, Al-Sayegh’s brother, Fady Al-Sayegh, who has resided in Egypt since earlier this year, shared his pain at receiving the devastating news about his sister.

“It was an unexpected moment when I got the heartbreaking update through Father Iusuf Assad, the pastor of the Holy Family Latin Church in Gaza,” Fady recounted. “He sent me a condolence message. I asked, ‘Condolences for whom?’ His answer was, ‘It’s Lara, your sister.’”

“I couldn’t believe it ... How could I believe it?” Fady said, his voice thick with grief. “I asked my brother Khalil, hoping against hope that the news was false. But the painful truth was inescapable. Just yesterday, it seems, Lara was here with us. We were talking, planning for a promising future together. I was waiting for her on the Egyptian side of the border. Everything we dreamed of was within our grasp, and suddenly ... we lost all that we had, as if it had never been.” 

Fady’s sorrow is compounded by the plans they had made. “We had hopes of attending university together, as Lara aspired to study journalism and media in order to give voice to the untold stories,” he said.

A journey cut tragically short

According to the testimony of Lara’s mother, Fady explained that on Tuesday, April 23, both Lara and her mother’s names were included on a list of those permitted to cross into Egypt from Gaza. They decided to leave the following day, heading to the Netzarim Corridor, which separates northern Gaza from the south and remains under Israeli control.

“They were in a car driving them to a specific point in the south,” Fady explained. “From there, they had to walk on foot until reaching the Rafah Crossing into Egypt. Lara was walking briskly and quickly, but she suddenly stumbled and collapsed to the ground. Some people tried to revive her, thinking she had merely fainted due to the extreme heat. But the painful reality was that Lara had died.”

Their mother also fainted from the trauma and is now recovering. Fady noted with great sorrow that Lara was buried in southern Gaza, far from her church home, and her funeral has not yet been held. 

Fady blamed some Arabic media outlets for ignoring the plight of Gaza’s small Christian minority amid their harsh living conditions, including killings, loss of property, displacement, and forced migration. The ancient Christian community there has endured continuous suffering and is on the brink of extinction due to migration, displacement, and now the war. 

Fady also expressed hope that the world would work toward achieving justice and peace in the region. He called on churches around the globe to pray for Gaza, to be a voice for the oppressed, and to help raise awareness about the struggle of minority communities in the area.

This story was first published by ACI Mena, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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