Indian nurse killed in Israel: Uncertainty prevails over bringing back mortal remains

Soumya, who had been living in Israel for the past eight years, lost her life on Tuesday in a deadly rocket attack. She was on a video call with her husband who is in Kerala when the tragedy struck.
Soumya Santhosh, the Kerala woman killed in Israel
Soumya Santhosh, the Kerala woman killed in Israel

The death of Soumya Santhosh, a 31-year-old caregiver from Kerala who was killed in a rocket strike in Israel’s Ashkelon, has left her family in Keerithode panchayat in Idukki district shattered. Soumya’s mother, Savithri, wept unable to complete her sentences. Soumya’s brother Sajesh told TNM that they were devastated and were in talks with the government over bringing Soumya’s body back home. “We have been told by the authorities that they would bring the body here if there is any chance for that,” Sajesh told TNM.

Soumya’s husband Santhosh, also a resident of Keerithodu, is struggling to console their nine-year-old son, Adorn Santhosh, who is unable to cope with the situation.

"He is awaiting her call," Santhosh told reporters in Idukki, holding back his tears.

The young woman, who had been living in Israel for the past eight years, lost her life on Tuesday in a deadly rocket attack. The tensions brewing between Israel and Hamas, a militant outfit in Palestine, had escalated in the past few days, with both sides indulging in rocket strikes. Though Soumya had often shared her anguish with her family about the massive fighting in Israel, the family had never imagined such a tragic end.

Soumya’s parents, Satheesan and Savithri, are former ward members of Keerithode panchayat. The family, which has struggled to be financially stable, found some solace after Soumya got the job in Israel around 8 years ago. Both Satheesan and Savithri are Congress members. Satheesan is a tailor while Savithri worked as a daily labourer under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Sajesh, her elder brother, works as a conductor in a private bus. The family lives in a small asbestos-roofed house. It was only a few years ago that Soumya and Santhosh were able to buy a house for themselves.

“Soumya’s income was a huge help for the family. It was her income that helped the family arrange her sister Sanupriya’s wedding,” Anit Joshy, Kathippara ward member and Savithri’s friend, told TNM.

“Savithri Chechi used to bring Soumya’s kid Adorn with her to the panchayat office to take care of him as Soumya was away in Israel. Santhosh’s two sisters too were in Israel. They took Soumya with them. The last time she came on a holiday to India was two years ago,” Anit added.

Soumya’s death has come as a shock to people in the neighbourhood too. “Soumya was just 1.5 years older than her sister. So, when she was a toddler, many people in the village helped her mother raise her. When I visited Savithri’s home now, even the other women there were crying as if they had lost their child. Soumya was soft-spoken and we all used to like her,” Anit said.

The tragedy happened just as Soumya was planning her return to Kerala, ending years of toil in the Israeli city for a better life back home.

On Tuesday afternoon, while Soumya was on a video call with her husband telling him about the tense atmosphere in Ashkelon, a missile struck the house she was working in and she lost her life. As she was sharing details of the war-like situation prevailing in the area, Santhosh heard a huge sound on the other end. Her phone, which was still connected, had fallen down.

"I said "hello, hello" over the phone, but there was no response from the other side. After a minute-and-a-half, I could hear noises of some people on the other end. The phone was still connected," Santhosh said.

Sensing danger, Santhosh immediately alerted his family members, who got in touch with Soumya's friends in Ashkelon and came to know of her tragic demise.

The Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan on Tuesday said that the Indian embassy authorities in Tel Aviv are making efforts to bring Soumya's mortal remains to India. Muraleedharan, who spoke to Indian Ambassador to Israel Sanjeev Kumar Singla over phone, said the Israeli authorities will hand over the body to India after completing all the formalities there.

"Spoke with the family of Ms Soumya Santhosh to convey my deep condolences at her tragic demise during the rocket attacks from Gaza today. Assured all possible assistance. We have condemned these attacks and the violence in Jerusalem, and urged restraint by both sides", Muraleedharan said in a tweet. A source in the minister's office told TNM that her body was handed over to the Indian Embassy in Israel.

However, there are concerns as the Tel Aviv airport in Israel was shut on Tuesday following a rocket strike by Hamas from the Gaza strip.

“Usually under normal circumstances, it would take four to seven days to bring back the body of a person who died in a foriegn country. In this case, there are chances that it might take longer,” said sources.

“We are in touch with the Indian Embassy in Israel to ensure that the mortal remains of Soumya Santhosh who was killed in Israel is brought back to Kerala and handed over to her family as soon as possible. Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Soumya,” Chief Minister-Designate Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted.

Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said he has written to the Indian Ambassador to Israel, urging him to take steps to bring home Soumya’s body.

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