MIDDLE EAST

Gazan child marks 4th birthday in father’s absence

GAZAN CHILD MARKS 4TH BIRTHDAY IN FATHER’S ABSENCE

Zeina Sarhan marked her fourth birthday this week without her father, who, since traveling to Sweden four years ago, has been unable to return to his native Gaza due to Israel's decade-long blockade of the coastal strip.

Zeina's mother threw a small birthday party for her on a Gaza beach, replete with a cake and a boat festooned with Palestinian and Swedish flags -- along with 1,460 balloons symbolizing the number of days since the departure of her father, 43-year-old Wisam Sarhan.

Her mother, Rasha Qishta, 29, said she hoped to draw international attention to their plight and to the suffering caused by Israel's ongoing siege of the territory.

The pair also hung banners on the boat, reading, "Life has no meaning without your father" and "I miss you dad".

They also wrote two messages for the beloved husband and father, one in Arabic and a second in English, one of which they threw into the sea in a bottle and the second of which they sent -- tied to balloons -- into the sky.

"I know these messages will probably never reach their intended recipient," Rasha said. "But I included my phone number and social media account in case someone else finds them and can help us out."

"It's also a way for Zeina to express how much she misses her father," she added. "And how much I miss my husband."

She explained how her husband had to stay in Sweden without a residence permit, while she and her daughter were unable to travel to Sweden as a result of the crippling Israeli blockade.

"Zeina hasn't seen her father since she was born," Rasha lamented.

Writing on behalf of her daughter, Rasha wrote in the letter: "Today I turn four years old. My mother says I'm her parents' first grandchild and the source of their happiness. Happy birthday to me!"

"When I was born four years ago, everybody shed tears of joy," the letter adds. "I came out screaming, as if I had known that my father was gone and that a difficult life awaited me and my mother."

Zeina's letter concludes: "My father left to find an honorable life [in Sweden], but he could not find it there. Now he can't come back and we can't go see him."

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