JERUSALEM — Like most parents of newborns, Hanan and Fathi Beyouq’s faces light up when they see the faces of their triplets.
As the little face of their daughter, Najwa, emerges from beneath a pink blanket, their voices rise enthusiastically as they kiss and coo her name.
But unlike other parents, Hanan and Fathi can only see their baby through a cell phone screen.
Hanan’s pregnancy was considered high-risk, so Israel allowed her to leave Gaza briefly in August to give birth at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem. The three little girls were born prematurely, at 31 weeks, on August 24 and were put on ventilators. But Hanan, 23, had to return to Gaza when her travel permit expired three days after she gave birth to her triplets and left the newborns behind.
The babies were ready to come out shortly before the Hamas attack on October 7, and Hanan planned to return to pick up her daughters in person. But suddenly, Gaza was sealed off, becoming a war zone. This prevented the Beyouqs from retrieving their babies.
“She is my soul, my star,” Fathi said, face to face with his wife as they crowded around the telephone in their southern Gaza home to catch a glimpse of one of their three daughters at a hospital about 60 miles away.
Fathi has yet to meet his daughters, now almost 15 weeks old.
NBC News visited the babies – Noor, Njmeh and Najwa – at the Jerusalem hospital on Sunday, where they had just woken up, snuggled under blankets. While there, the crew was able to join Hanan and Fathi for a precious glimpse of their daughters.
The same day, the NBC News team in Gaza spoke with the family in the southern town of Khan Younis, where the couple showed off baby clothes they had bought for their daughters before the war – a small treasure of delayed happiness: colorful socks and matching purple. jumpsuits with strawberries sewn onto their collars. Most of it is still in plastic packaging, waiting for the girls to return home.
“The war separated us,” Hanan said, tears streaming down his face. “As a mother, I wish I could hug my daughters.”
But even though they miss their babies dearly, the Beyouqs don’t think it’s possible to reunite until there is a new truce or the war is over.
“It’s safer there,” Hanan said, when asked if she had a chance of taking the babies back. “The situation here is very bad. We cannot provide them with milk, diapers or even food for ourselves. »
Before the conflict, Israel allowed residents of the Gaza Strip to apply for humanitarian entry permits for certain medical reasons, such as life-saving care unavailable in the enclave, but the war upended those processes. The Beyouqs are now crammed with five other families into a small house in Khan Younis, which has been under Israeli bombardment since the end of the ceasefire last week. They say they have almost nothing to eat or drink.
Neither the Israeli army nor COGAT, the military liaison between Israel and the Palestinians, responded to a request for comment on situations like the one facing the Beyouqs.
Gaza has been under complete blockade by Israel since October, with very limited humanitarian aid. Many of its hospitals are running out of medicine and electricity to treat their patients, including premature babies.
Dr. Hatem Khamash, head of the neonatal unit at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, said there is currently no safe place in Gaza and the girls’ chances of survival under bombardment and without medical care suitable nor drinking water are thin.
“How are they going to get water for the milk?” he said, referring to formula. Using impure water in infant formula can be fatal to infants.
“So it’s definitely safer for them to stay here,” he said, standing next to the babies’ cradles.
Hospital staff are doing what they can to care for the triplets, but the girls are in dire need of their parents’ love and touch, which is even more crucial for premature babies, she said. Khamash said.
He said staff members try to keep the Beyouq informed of the girls’ condition and send them photos, but intermittent internet and phone service in Gaza mean such updates are rare.
“They send me their pictures to make me feel good, but it’s not like hugging them,” Hanan said.
While the Beyouq wait desperately, Israel expands its ground offensive in southern Gaza. Hamas authorities have reported hundreds of casualties since fighting resumed, and the IDF has urged residents of some southern areas to evacuate. But Gaza residents, many of whom have already fled from the north to the south, increasingly say there is nowhere safe to go.
The Biden administration, other world leaders and humanitarian groups have all repeatedly urged Israel to minimize the civilian toll. Israel has always stated that its military does not intentionally target civilians or attempt to minimize civilian casualties in the war, but that its goal remains the complete elimination of Hamas.
Fathi and Hanan said they couldn’t imagine how they could support their daughters in Gaza right now.
“We can’t move or find food, and we are displaced and separated from each other,” Hanan said. “We are just civilians who have done nothing.”
“I want them to come back but I’m worried,” Fathi said. “We are at war, we don’t know what can happen… May they stay safe there. We hope this war ends soon, so I can bring my daughters back and be with them.
Richard Engel and Charlotte Gardiner reported from Jerusalem, and Yuliya Talmazan reported from London.