Pet dogs bring both joy and worry to displaced Gaza teenager

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 5:52 AM

By Saleh Salem and Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) – Keeping three dogs while living in a tent on a beach in Gaza complicates an already difficult situation, but the smile on teenager Hassan Abu Saman’s face when he pets the animals shows that it’s worth the trouble for him.

A passionate dog lover since childhood, he had 16 of them before the Israel-Hamas war that has devastated the Gaza Strip, but managed to take just three of them, Mofaz, Lucy and Dahab, when he fled his home in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.

“When things settled, I was able to secure a car to go and get the rest, but when I got back, I did not find any of them, they were lost. I went back a second time to look for them and found the house bombed,” said Abu Saman, 17.

He is one of the estimated 1.5 million Palestinians crammed into Rafah in southern Gaza, close to the boundary with Egypt, to escape from Israel’s military onslaught — although Israel has said it was planning a ground offensive there too.

Abu Saman is living in a sprawling tent camp in a beach area on the oustkirts of Rafah, along with family members and the three dogs, who follow him everywhere he goes. They are popular with camp children who take turns stroking them.

Abu Saman referred to the dogs as “my friends from another kind” and spoke about them as he would about people.

“He has been feeling so down because of the war,” he said of Mofaz, the largest of the three.

Finding enough food was a problem for dogs as well as humans, and Abu Saman said Lucy and Dahab had lost weight because they usually ate a special kind of dog food that was no longer available.

The future was uncertain for the teenager, his family and his beloved pets.

“If we were to return, the house is flattened. He does not have a house or anything,” he said, referring to Mofaz, who he was stroking while talking.

The war was triggered by Hamas militants who attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostage, according to Israel.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has responded with an air and ground assault on Gaza that has killed more than 29,000 people, according to local health officials. It has also displaced most of the population of 2.3 million, caused widespread hunger and reduced much of the territory to rubble.

(Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Sharon Singleton)