Palestinian family that fled wars suffers deaths in Libya

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - The devastating floods in Libya have brought new tragedy to a family of Palestinians which settled in the country after fleeing Gaza during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Two members of the Abu Amra family - a father and son - died and 12 other relatives are missing after a storm burst dams, swept away buildings and destroyed as much as a quarter of the city of Derna in eastern Libya.

"We lived in worry for two days, until we could confirm some had died and others survived," said Fayez Abu Amra at a mourning tent set up in Deir Al-Balah town in the southern Gaza Strip.

Neighbours and friends flocked to the tent to pay their respects to the family on Wednesday, while verses from the Muslims' holy Koran echoed throughout the street.

Fayez Abu Amra, a 54-year-old teacher of Islamic studies at Gaza's Al-Aqsa University, is among family members who survived four wars with Israel only for some of those who moved to Libya in search of a better life to perish in a natural disaster.

"It is a very big shock for us. Twelve people of the Abu Amra family are missing and we want officials to assure us whether they are dead or alive," he told Reuters.

The tragedy is compounded by difficulties in bringing the bodies back home to the Palestinian enclave for proper burial.

The Abu Amra family are descendents of Palestinians who fled or were forced to flee their homes in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation and ended up in Gaza as refugees. Some older relatives then quit Gaza during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, becoming refugees for a second time in Libya.

"Two catastrophes took place, the catastrophe of the displacement (in 1948) and the storm in Libya," said Fayez Abu Amra.

Derna was wrecked when storm waters overwhelmed two dams sending a torrent through the city center early on Monday and sweeping whole districts into the sea.

Death tolls given by Libyan officials have varied, though all are in the thousands. The number of missing has been estimated at 10,000.

About 50,000 Palestinians live in Libya and at least one-third of them live in the most devastated eastern parts, said Ahmed Al-Deek of the Palestinian Foreign Ministry.

Deek said 23 Palestinians have died in Libya since the flooding and efforts were underway to locate dozens of others who remained missing.

Deek said a Palestinian rapid response team arrived in Libya on Thursday and will support Libyan and international teams in rescue operations and provide aid and assistance.

(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)