TEL AVIV — For days, Hind Rajab’s mother had held on to hope that her six-year-old daughter was still alive — but on Saturday, she was clinging to all she had left of her child: A notebook, a pencil and a paper crown.
Twelve days after she went missing, Hind was found killed — her body still lying in the car from which she’d made a desperate plea for help while trapped under Israeli fire.
“This is the most difficult feeling, to lose your daughter,” Hind’s mother, Wissam Hamadah, told NBC News’ crew on the ground in Gaza. “This occupation did not have mercy on her.”
Just meters away from the battered and bullet-ridden vehicle, first responders and members of Hind’s own family also found a burned-out ambulance with the remains of the two first responders who tried to save her, the Palestine Red Crescent Society told NBC News.
“They killed her twice,” Hamadah said. “And killed the paramedics that were trying to save her.”
Hamada showed NBC News’ crew the possessions she said Hind had treasured before she was killed. “This is her weapon, a crown that she was wearing,” she said.
Hind was fleeing heavy fighting in the neighborhood of Tel Al-Hawa in Gaza City in a car with her aunt, uncle and four cousins, when a bombing near a gas station was believed to have killed her family members, according to her family and the Red Crescent.
Hind, who the Red Crescent said was 6 years old, survived along with her 15-year-old cousin Layan, who called emergency dispatchers for help, warning that an Israeli tank appeared to be closing in.
A burst of gunfire rang out and the line went dead, the Red Crescent said. And when dispatchers called back, it was Hind who answered. She said Layan had been killed along with the rest of her relatives and pleaded for help.
“Come take me. Please, will you come?” she could be heard imploring in a recording of the call, which was released by the Red Crescent. At one point, dispatchers asked her if she was surrounded by gunfire, and in a small voice, Hind replied, “yes.”
Dispatchers stayed on the phone with Hind for hours as they sought permission from the Israeli military through a third party to send a rescue crew into the area, which was considered an active combat zone, the Red Crescent said.
Once permission was secured, two first responders, Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al Madhoun, were deployed in a bid to save Hind, but the Red Crescent soon lost contact with them, along with the little girl.
“Where is Hind? Where are Yousef and Ahmed? Are they still alive? We want to know their fate,” the Red Crescent asked in a post on X one week ago as the case gained attention across social media.
At the time, the Israel Defense Forces told NBC News they were “unfamiliar with the incident described.” Asked for comment by NBC News on Saturday and Sunday, the IDF said it was looking into the matter.
After Israeli forces appeared to pull out of the Tel Al-Hawa area, a rescue worker on the ground said crews were finally able to search for her on Saturday morning, leading to the discovery of her remains. Hind’s family was also among the group that found her dead, the Red Crescent said.
NBC News was not able to independently verify the exact circumstances surrounding the deaths of Hind, her relatives and the two paramedics who tried to save the child. The Red Crescent accused the IDF of reneging on its agreement to allow rescuers to try to save Hind, alleging Israeli forces had instead attacked the ambulance.
In a separate statement on Saturday, the IDF said it had conducted a targeted raid alongside the Israel Security Agency “on terror targets in northern and central Gaza,” over the past two weeks, noting that forces had been operating in the areas of Tel Al-Hawa and Shati.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates condemned the incident Sunday as a “heinous crime” that it suggested should be investigated by the International Criminal Court.
In a statement posted to X on Saturday evening, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell called the news of Hind’s death “heartbreaking.”
“How many more children will suffer and die before this nightmare ends?” she wrote.
More than 28,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its assault after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Around two-thirds of those killed are believed to be women and children, according to United Nations estimates.
Hamadah previously told NBC News that her daughter had dreamed of becoming a doctor and being able to help others.
But on Saturday, she said she could only hope her child can “rest in peace” — and that the pair will one day be reunited.
“I hope I see you in heaven, my baby.”