Canadian girl returns from Gaza, reunited with family
BRANTFORD ─ Salma Abuzaiter is safely home after family, politicians and consular officials helped plan her return from Gaza.
The 8-year-old girl's plane touched down in Toronto late Friday afternoon and she was welcomed into the arms of her mother and siblings, Yousef, 12, and Mohammed, 10.
"It was amazing," said Wesam Abuzaiter from her Brantford, Ont., home where Salma was back after almost two months away.
"She's feeling very weird about things and is shocked, saying to me 'Mommy, why am I in the news?'"
Salma and her father, Dr. Hassan Abuzaiter, left Brantford in June to spend time in Gaza where the doctor was working at European General Hospital, despite advice from the Canadian government against travel to the area. Salma was staying with relatives when tensions between Hamas and Israel erupted into rocket fire.
Wesam, with the help of the Canadian government, has been working to get both her husband and daughter home but Dr. Abuzaiter has opted to stay in Gaza and continue his work at the hospital.
"I'm very proud I'm belonging to this country," said an emotional Wesam Abuzaiter.
"I'm very thankful for all the Canadians who helped. I have all my children again and that's incredible!"
Abuzaiter said it will be a long time before she feels comfortable letting Salma travel again.
"No way" will she have to travel alone or escorted by others, as she did for a bus trip from Gaza to Jordan and then airplane from Amman, Jordan to Toronto.
"Canada is home for us and she is back to her home now."
At a city hall rally Friday evening, religious leaders, community members and politicians gave thanks for Salma's safe return and offered prayers for the many other innocent children who remain in the war-torn area.
About 100 Muslims and Christians from diverse backgrounds gathered, some holding candles.
"May we never be silent in these days of suffering and injustice," said Imam Abu Noman Tarek, asking for blessings of food, water, medicine and human rights to all those affected.
Anwar Dost, a local pharmacist, gave an impassioned speech that honoured what he has found in Canada.
"We have 200 languages spoken here and more than 50 to 100 different religious groups living in harmony. Why cannot the world take this example and live in peace?"
Dost implored politicians at the rally to not take sides but to use Canada's well-known peacekeeping skills in the situation.
MP Phil McColeman, who has worked with community members and the consular officials over the last week and a half to get Salma home safely, declined to make a speech at the rally.
He said he worked hard to keep his emotions at bay as he tried to help make good decisions throughout the situation.
"It was a challenge to work to influence things through numerous phone calls but I kept in mind the goal was to see this little girl reunited with her family."