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Every phone call is a goodbye, says Vancouver resident with family in Gaza

5 of Omar Mansour’s cousins were killed by Israeli snipers over the past week
Vancouver resident Omar Mansour spends the few minutes when he is able to talk to his parents, brother and sisters, telling them he loves them. Mansour and his mother, Sanaa Omar are seen in an undated handout photo taken in their house in the Gaza Strip. He says every call with his family may be the last. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Omar Mansour, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Omar Mansour says every phone call with his family in the Gaza Strip might be the last.

So during those few minutes when he is able to talk to his parents, brother and sisters, the Vancouver resident makes sure he tells them he loves them.

“I ask them how they are. But it’s mostly goodbyes, you know? Mostly goodbyes, and I love you,” he said.

“And I thank them for what they’ve done for me. Because it might be the last call, the last time I hear their voice.”

Five of his cousins were killed by Israeli snipers over the past week when they went to look for food and water, he said.

“That’s only the family I got to know about. I lost touch with most of my 60 cousins after the war began.”

Israel pounded areas of the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and artillery on Saturday, a day after the United States vetoed a United Nations resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the first time invoked Article 99 of the United Nations Charter, which enables a United Nations chief to highlight threats he sees to international peace and security, and warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

READ MORE: Mideast ministers in Ottawa to discuss Israel-Hamas war with Joly, Trudeau

But United States Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said on Friday that halting military action would allow Hamas to continue to rule Gaza and “only plant the seeds for the next war.”

The war was triggered by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, in which militants from Gaza killed about 1,200, most of them civilians, and took about 240 people hostage.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said the death toll in the territory has surpassed 17,400 over the past two months, with more than 46,000 wounded. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but said 70 per cent of the dead were women and children.

Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt are effectively sealed, leaving 2.3 million Palestinians with no option other than to seek refuge within the territory 40 kilometres long and some 11 kilometres wide.

Mansour said his family has been sheltering in a school run by the United Nations close to Gaza City. The small building is packed with people where they share the floor, which he said has become their world.

But the family is afraid the school might be bombed any time, he said.

“All families are surviving day by day.”

During a weeklong ceasefire the family walked to their home in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, said Mansour, a permanent resident who arrived in Canada in 2014.

His 23-year-old brother, Firas Omar, described to Mansour the scenes they saw as they navigated piles of stones that were once homes, hospitals, schools and shops. They saw mothers looking for children under mortar, snaking queues for water and food, and a stench of dead bodies filled their noses, he said.

Mansour’s family’s home is now rubble, he said. Members of the family used their hands to dig through the ruins and found a few documents that they had stored in a lockbox, and a few cans of food that had survived the bombing.

“A can of tuna, a few cans of beans and some corn,” he said. “My mom and dad are in a starvation mode.”

His family got a chance to shower for the first time since Oct. 7 during the ceasefire, he said. But there’s no water to wash their clothes and they have no idea when they can shower next, he added.

“There’s no water to drink.”

Since the ceasefire ended on Dec. 1, and bombing resumed, the family has been eating a few spoonfuls of the canned food and trying to make it last as long as possible, he said.

“It’s not going to last much longer,” he said. “Firas is scared to go out too much to look for food because there are snipers everywhere.”

One of his sisters, Ruba, and her kids are in “starvation mode” in southern Gaza, he said.

One of his other sisters, Dina, who has a four-month-old boy, is with Mansour’s parents, seeking refuge in the school.

“The baby cries from hunger all the time.”

His mother, Sanaa Omar, who is in her 60s and needs medication, hasn’t seen a doctor since the war began, he said.

“She’s tired. She is exhausted. Drained by this whole tension,” he said. “So she just wants to be out of this whole situation. And she just wants to have some peace.”

When asked where his family finds the resilience to go on, Mansour said: “What choice do they have? None of them have a choice.”

— With files from The Associated Press

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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