How one Palestinian’s Paralympic dream is offering hope to a generation of children in Gaza

More than a thousand children in Gaza have had one or more limbs amputated since the war began in October - and Paralympic hopeful Alaa al-Dali is racing for every single one of them, ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports

There are fewer than 100 days until the start of the Paris Paralympics, an event that showcases some of the toughest sportsmen and women in the world.

Overcoming adversity is second nature to every Paralympian. But for one Palestinian cyclist, the race even to get to the start line has meant escaping a war zone and leaving his young family behind in Gaza.

Alaa al-Dali was an Olympic hopeful until he lost his leg in 2019.

He was training near a protest in Rafah when he was shot by an Israeli soldier. His injuries were so severe, his leg had to be amputated.

Now Alaa is determined to get a wild card to Paris to show that losing a limb doesn’t mean losing your hopes and dreams too.

Alaa al-Dali, an Olympic hopeful before he lost a leg in 2019, has not given up on his sporting dreams. Credit: ITV News

More than a thousand children in Gaza have had one or more limbs amputated since the war began in October, according to the UN and Alaa is racing for every one of them.

Having been training in Belgium for the past five weeks, he was given a visa to compete at a Paracycling World Cup event in Maniago, Italy, just two days before race.

One of the supporters lining the route is four-year-old Ahmad Shabbat, who arrived in Italy last month to have prosthetics fitted, after losing his legs in an Israeli airstrike six months ago.

He is looked after by his uncle, Ibrahim, because an earlier strike killed both his parents and his elder brother.

Despite going through so much at such a young age, Ahmad Shabbat is irrepressible as ever. Credit: ITV News

But somehow, Ahmad remains irrepressible, racing his electric wheelchair around Maniago’s town square as if it’s a dodgem.

When the cyclists race past him he shouts: “They’re getting away from us, we need to catch them!”

At the end of the race, Alaa, exhausted by his efforts, cycles straight over to the little boy and hands him his helmet and sunglasses.

He tells Ahmad that one day he too could race for the Gaza Sunbirds, the name of the Palestinian cycling team.

It’s hard because seeing Ahmad is a reminder of his own young son and daughter.

Since he left Gaza to travel to Europe, his children and their mother have been displaced from their home in Rafah and are now trying to survive in a camp where aid supplies are dwindling fast.

Sunbirds Co-founder Karim Ali says every time Alaa races he has to put out of his mind the fact that at any moment a phone call might come telling him that one of them has died.

Since leaving Gaza, three of the Sunbirds’ friends and family have been killed. The pressure is so much that Alaa’s two teammates have given up on their paralympic dream.

Since leaving Gaza to travel to Europe, Ahmad's family have been displaced from their home in Rafah. Credit: ITV News

But Alaa is still pedalling, against all the odds.

He tells Ahmad: “Stay strong, don’t think about how you were before, think of the future. Don’t think you are lacking something, your mind is strong.

"This life can now give you better opportunities than you had before,” he adds.

Alaa has until July 6 to qualify for Paris. Ahmad is hoping to get his first set of prosthetics fitted in the next few months.

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