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Bay Area student fights to save mother trapped in Gaza after already losing his father

man in white hat and blue shirt and woman in hijab and white shirt with three children in front of the golden gate bridge
A photo of Fadi Sckak's family at the Golden Gate Bridge showing Abedalla Sckak with his wife Zahra Sckak and children. | Source: Fadi Sckak via AP

Fadi Sckak has already lost his father to the violence in Gaza. He wants to help his mother escape that fate.

"I just want to see my mother again, that's the goal," said Sckak, a university student in Sunnyvale. The 25-year-old is one of the Palestinian couple's three American sons, including an active-duty U.S. soldier serving in South Korea. "Being able to hold her again. I can't bear to lose her."

His mother, Zahra Sckak, 44, was holed up Saturday with an older, ailing American relative in a Gaza City building along with 100 others. She is among what the State Department says are 300 American citizens, permanent legal residents or their parents and young children still trapped by the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Relatives in the United States and other advocates are pleading for the Biden administration and Congress to help them flee.

Gaza's Health Ministry has reported more than 20,000 deaths in the fighting and more than 53,600 wounded. According to the United Nations, more than a half-million people are starving in Gaza because of the war.

Fadi Sckak's mother was on her sixth day with only water from the sewers to drink and with little or no food and rescue hopes waning, he said. His dad, Abedalla, was shot and wounded last month, after a bombing forced the family to flee the building where they had been sheltering, and died days later without treatment, he said.

Their son had listened over the phone as his mother begged for help after the shooting. He could hear his 56-year-old father, who had diabetes and corresponding health problems, in the background, crying out in pain.

"He didn't deserve a painful experience like that. To die, with no help, no one even trying to help," Sckak said.

Some U.S. citizens and legal residents and their immediate family are stranded near Gaza's Rafah crossing into Egypt, desperately waiting for placement on a list of U.S.-government-provided names that would authorize them to leave Gaza.

Others, like Zahra Schkak, are trapped by fighting, and some are too ill or wounded to reach the crossing. They tell their families in voice messages and sporadic phone calls and texts of danger, hunger and fear.

"This is the part of the missile that fall down on our heads yesterday," American citizen Borak Alagha, 18, texted his cousin, Yasmeen Elagha, a law student in Chicago, sending a photo of him holding a jagged chunk of metal.

"This is the hole next to the place we are living now," Alagha said in another text. It showed a deep bomb crater next to their building near Khan Younis, where the family of 10 fled after Israeli officials identified the area as a safe place for civilians.

Yasmeen Elagha has reached out to State Department officials and members of a special task force. She has sued to force the U.S. government to do more after hearing from American officials that there is noting more they can do at the moment.
"They are fully leaving them for dead," she said.

The State Department said Friday it has helped more than 1,300 people who were eligible for U.S. assistance — American citizens, green-card holders and their immediate family members — make it through the Rafah crossing to Egypt. The department is tracking 300 more still seeking U.S. help to escape; that includes what it says are fewer than 50 U.S. citizens.

"U.S. citizens and their families will make their own decisions and adjust their plans as this difficult situation changes," the department said in a statement.

The case of Sckak's family in Gaza has gotten more attention in Washington, given 24-year-old Ragi Sckak's Army duty in South Korea.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said he has pushed the administration to get Americans out of Gaza. "I know this is a top priority for the administration," he said in a statement, adding that U.S. officials would "exhaust every option."

Maria Kari is an immigration lawyer in Houston working on behalf of the stranded American citizens and legal residents. She points to the air and sea charters that the U.S. helped arrange to bring out more than 1,000 Americans and others from Israel after the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 that started the war.

She has filed a lawsuit accusing the U.S. government of failing to protect Americans in danger abroad and unconstitutionally denying Palestinian Americans the kind of assistance it gave Israeli Americans.

"We're not asking them to do anything political here," she said. "We're simply saying the State Department has a job. And it's not doing that job, for one class of citizens."