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‘We want the war to end’: 12-year-old volunteer paramedic works to save lives in Gaza

Samy Zayara/ABC News

(DEIR AL-BALAH, GAZA) — While he’d rather be playing games with his brothers or studying in school, 12-year-old Zakaria Sarsak said he no longer has that option. He, instead, said he spends his days racing from one emergency to another across the Gaza Strip, riding with an ambulance crew to ghastly scenes of war to collect the dead and save the wounded.

As an incredibly young volunteer paramedic in the war-torn region, Zakaria told ABC News the carnage he witnesses daily makes him long for his life before Oct. 7, 2023, the day Hamas terrorists launched a surprise invasion of Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and kidnapping others, according to the Israeli officials.

Zakaria’s homeland was turned upside down when Israel retaliated by unleashing a barrage of missile strikes and a ground campaign that has now claimed the lives of more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. With more than 74,000 people injured from the attacks, Zakaria said his assistance has been welcomed by his fellow ambulance crew members.

Many victims of the war are children as young or younger than him. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, at least 13,000 Palestinian children have been killed, including a growing number from malnutrition. One UNICEF official told ABC News last week that Gaza “feels like a coffin for children.”

“We take the martyrs, we take the wounded, we bring them to the hospital, and we return again to bring the wounded and the martyrs,” Zakaria said.

One day last week, Zakaria walked into the emergency entrance of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah, donning medical gloves and speaking with adult medics about restocking an ambulance with supplies. He emerged a short time later with bandages, tourniquets and other items to use in the field. He carried the supplies out of the hospital and placed them in the rear of an ambulance, he said.

When a call came in of another attack, Zakaria said he jumped into the front passenger seat as the ambulance headed off with his crew to the emergency. When they returned to the hospital, Zakaria said he helped remove a patient on a stretcher from the ambulance and quickly pushed them inside to waiting doctors.

“I feel a little afraid,” he told ABC News of his work. “I feel like my chest hurts when I see anyone … and I just feel afraid.”

Helping others, he said, helps him cope with his own family being displaced by the war.

He recalled how he and his family were forced to flee when an Israeli tank showed up outside their home. Zakaria said he and his family found shelter at the Al-Aqsa Hospital.

“I got to know the doctors,” he said of how his path to becoming a volunteer paramedic began.

He said his other family members fled the hospital when Israeli forces raided the facility in January. The IDF says Hamas has been using hospitals in Gaza as command centers and ammunition depots — a claim U.S. intelligence supports.

“My family is in Rafah and I am here,” Zakaria said of the Palestinian city in southern Gaza. “I have four brothers older than me. I miss them.”

He last saw his family in late March when he visited Rafah. But he said he only spent one day there before returning to Deir al-Balah and the Al-Aqsa Hospital to continue his work as a volunteer paramedic.

Zakaria said that while he could have stayed with his family, he believes his work as a volunteer medic is too important to abandon.

“I feel upset because I don’t see them. I feel sad,” Zakaria said. “May God bring me together with them and we will go to Gaza.”

Also weighing heavily on his mind are friends who have been killed during the war.

“When I found out, I started crying,” he said. “Two of my friends died.”

While he faces dangers in the field, he said the risk is worth taking to help his fellow Palestinians.

Asked what he misses most about his life before the war, Zakaria said, “I miss school, the teacher.”

Despite witnessing the horrors of the conflict up close, he said he still holds onto his dreams of life after the war, “to live like the children of the world in peace and freedom.”

His one plea to the world, he said, “We want a truce, we want the war to end.”

He said he hasn’t given up hope that his wish will become a reality.

“God willing,” he said between responding to emergencies, “we will return safely.”

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