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Being trapped in Gaza felt like a scene from Titanic, says First Minister’s mother-in-law

Elizabeth El-Nakla is interviewed next to her daughter Nadia, the First Minister's wife
Elizabeth El-Nakla, with daughter Nadia, said hopes of survival ebbed away after she was turned away from Egypt border - Sky

The mother-in-law of Humza Yousaf has described how she and her husband felt like the elderly couple from a scene in the Titanic film as their hopes ebbed of surviving the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Elizabeth El-Nakla and her husband Maged were visiting family in Gaza when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct 7. Their daughter, Nadia, is married to Mr Yousaf, Scotland’s First Minister.

Speaking to Beth Rigby for Sky News, Ms El-Nakla recounted lying on a bed at night with her husband and praying that they would not be bombed as jets roared overhead.

Recalling the 1997 blockbuster starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio, in which an elderly couple are shown “lying on the bed holding hands because it seems they can’t save themselves”, Ms El-Nakla said: “You’re lying in the dark and you hear the jets going over, and they’re so low and so scary and you’re not sleeping, you really just hold each other’s hands and you look at each other and you’re saying your prayers in your head and you think, is it my turn?

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“I’m not the only person, everyone’s feeling this, it’s everywhere, it’s such a small piece of land that everyone hears these jets and hears these bombs and you just think, why shouldn’t it be me, why someone else?”

After two failed attempts, the couple – who live in Dundee – were eventually able to enter Egypt via the Rafah Border Crossing on Nov 3.

Humza Yousaf posted a photo of his family reunited after his parents-in-law safely returned to the UK
Humza Yousaf posted a photo of his family reunited after his parents-in-law safely returned to the UK - PA/X

Ms El-Nakla said that was the moment she knew she was safe but that she had “left my heart in Gaza. I didn’t bring it home with me”.

She added: “I think my life has changed forever. I lost hope so many times and I didn’t think I would ever be able to leave Gaza again.”

Nadia, a councillor from Dundee, said she had been “holding onto hope” but imagined that she may not see her parents again.

When the conflict began, Nadia messaged her parents and said: “Your window is going to be small, you need to leave. It’s going to become really, really a bad, dangerous situation for everyone in Gaza.”

During their first attempt to flee to safety on Oct 14, the couple were driven to the border by a neighbour.

They were told to turn back, and while on the phone to Nadia the line cut out following an explosion. Nadia said she “fell to her knees” and it took around 10 minutes for her to know her parents were still alive.

‘Crying the whole journey’

Nadia said that was her lowest point. “We then had to travel to Aberdeen because the [SNP] conference was about to start. So, I was crying the whole journey to Aberdeen.”

She said a ceasefire would benefit both sides and that the UK Government has an opportunity to be a “legitimate player for peace” but added: “While you’re not calling for a ceasefire, you can’t really be that legitimate voice.”

The First Minister’s wife also described being unable to move forward while members of her family remain in Gaza.

“On a personal level, my mind can’t go forward, I’m stuck day by day, that I don’t know if my family are going to live, and whether Palestine is going to exist. For me to think about what happens after the war when we’re not hearing of a ceasefire, my mind can’t go forward because it feels like we’re being erased from the world.”

Asked if she can imagine returning to Gaza, Ms El-Nakla, said: “There’s nothing to go back to. There’s no school, there’s no university, they even hit the chicken farm. There’s no food. There’s no infrastructure. I would love to go back to Gaza and I would love my family to be safe there but I think there’s nothing to go back to.”

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