Patients from Gaza are treated at this Egyptian hospital 3:45

(CNN) -- When Rami Mahmoud left home to buy food, his wife, Elham Maged, stayed behind to pray. As he walked back through the narrow, cramped streets of the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, he was met with a scene of utter chaos. An Israeli airstrike had hit the center of the densely populated community, opening a deep crater in its heart. His apartment was gone.

Scanning the devastation, Mahmoud suddenly saw a single finger in the rubble: it was Elham. Miraculously, he had survived. But his relief at finding her alive was short-lived. They would soon discover that two of their sons had died. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Elham Maged speaks to CNN from inside Cairo's Nasser Medical Institute. Credit: CNN

Two weeks after the horror of that day, the couple is more than 200 miles southwest of Gaza City, inside Cairo's Nasser Medical Institute in neighboring Egypt. The rubble and chaos of their shattered home was replaced by the cleanliness and order of this foreign medical center; the noise of rockets and explosions was replaced by the benign and insistent hum of traffic crawling through Egypt's bustling capital.

But safety and care do not bring comfort: they continue to be tormented by pain. "My daughter, just an hour before she died, called her best friend and said, 'I feel like something's going to happen to me. Can you take care of my mother and visit her often?'" said Elham.

"My son is a handsome boy, he was in high school, he used to go to the gym and lift weights, and he's tall and well-built," she continued, tears streaming down her face. "He liked to look good. He cut his hair two days before he was killed, in the middle of the war. He said, 'Even if I die, I want to die looking good.'"

Palestinians flee into southern Gaza along Salah Eddin Street, outside Gaza City, during the ongoing Israeli bombardment on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. Credit: Adel Hana/AP

Mahmoud shared family photos with us. Her daughter, barely 15 years old, with her large, clear eyes and delicate features framed by a veil; Her 17-year-old son, with a toddler on his back and a warm smile shining beneath his tousled black hair.


"God created them, God took them away," his wife said. "I just want to go back to the rest of my kids. There's no internet there, so I don't know anything about them. I know they're with their grandfather somewhere safe, hopefully, but we have no way to communicate with them."

Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed more than 12,000 Palestinians since Oct. 7, including some 5,000 children, according to the Hamas government's press office. Israel says its airstrikes are targeting Hamas commanders and infrastructure following the extremist group's Oct. 7 terror attacks that killed 1,200 people in Israel and took some 240 hostage.

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Families flee south

The Israeli military has focused its ground operations in northern Gaza, where Rami and Elham lived, and where it claims to have taken control. Gaza's civilians in the north have been ordered to evacuate to the south, but the airstrikes are also sparing that part of the densely inhabited enclave.

Muhammed Wadea speaks to CNN. Credit: CNN

Muhammed Wadea blames himself for following Israeli evacuation orders, telling CNN that he made the decision to heed the IDF's warnings and get his family out of their home and head south.

On October 16, Wadea and her children met in the southern city of Khan Younis, where another apparent Israeli attack destroyed the building in which they were sheltering.

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Today, Wadea's 9-year-old son, Abdelrahman, shares a hospital room at Nasser Medical Institute with his 14-year-old sister. Both children suffered multiple injuries in the attack: broken bones, skin torn from the body, shrapnel embedded in the skin.

Abdelrahman remembers that one moment he was sitting on a couch eating French fries with his cousin, and the next he woke up under the rubble and surrounded by the carnage.

There was no warning or sign from Hamas at the place where they were staying, Wadea said, standing restlessly next to his children, pain etched on his face as he battled heart-wrenching guilt. She began to cry as she spoke.

"I hope Abdelrahman's brothers are well and alive," he said. "May God have mercy on them. I have nine children. The oldest, Riham, is 18 years old and married. The youngest is 4 years old."

Both Wadea's and Mahmoud's families left Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, the only exit from the Palestinian enclave since Israel sealed off other exits following the Oct. 7 attack.

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Displaced people in Egypt

A limited number of wounded Palestinians and foreigners have been allowed to flee Gaza to Egypt through Rafah, following a Qatar-brokered deal between Israel, Hamas and Egypt, in coordination with the United States.

The Nasser Medical Institute is one of 37 hospitals that have prepared to accept wounded evacuees from Gaza, Egyptian Health Minister Dr. Khaled Abdel Ghaffar told CNN.

Wounded children board an ambulance to be transferred from Al-Aqsa Hospital to Egypt for medical treatment via Rafah on November 17, 2023. Credit: Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu/Getty Images

More than 1,100 beds, 1,700 intensive care units, as well as facilities such as incubators, have been booked, he said. As of this week, more than 200 places have been filled, but the flow of people who have been able to cross the border since November 1 remains slow.

On Friday, more than 550 foreign nationals and 45 wounded Palestinians, along with 40 companions, left Gaza through the border crossing, an Egyptian border official told a CNN reporter in Rafah.

Among those making the treacherous journey is a particularly vulnerable group. Last week, Egyptian authorities expected three dozen newborns to be evacuated to Egypt after being born in the harshest of environments at Al-Shifa hospital.

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At Al-Shifa hospital, the IDF's controversial operation to uncover what both Israeli and U.S. intelligence insist is a Hamas command and control center has depleted the power supply to the point of exhaustion, and with it the critical ability to pump oxygen into incubators, vital to the survival of these defenseless newborns.

Thirty-one babies were evacuated on Sunday from Al-Shifa hospital to the southern Gaza city of Rafah; The Palestinian authorities stated that several newborn babies had died due to power outages and shortages of medical supplies.

On Monday, 28 babies arrived in Egypt from Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, according to an Egyptian government official. One baby was discharged in Gaza and went home with his parents to their temporary shelter, while two others remained in the intensive care unit of the Emirati hospital in Rafah, Gaza.

Israel's siege of Gaza has included a near-total blockade of food, water and electricity, with exceptions for what the United Nations has called a "trickle" of humanitarian aid. Conditions in Gaza have become increasingly dire as fuel supplies dwindle, forcing the closure of 26 of the enclave's 35 hospitals.

Dr. Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Egypt's Minister of Health, speaks with CNN's Eleni Giokos. Credit: CNN

Last week, Ghaffar told CNN that Egypt was ready to welcome these delicate little souls heading down the tense route to the Rafah border crossing, but as the clock ticked down, the mood became increasingly tense. "The time factor is important," he said. "Every minute that we don't have them inside ... The possibility of them losing their lives is very high."

The background was clear: in the darkest and darkest hours, some tragedies are beyond the reach of those who could prevent them.

DisplacedEgyptIsrael Gaza