Former Oxford Pegasus Theatre student saw friend die in Gaza air attack

The Oxford Times: Mahmoud Balawi, above right, in South Park when he came to Oxford in June with, from left, Taro Kili, of Pegasus, Daniel Newtron, of Fusion, city council leader Bob Price, Gill Jaggers, of Pegasus and musician Nick Cope         Picture: David Fleming Buy this photo Mahmoud Balawi, above right, in South Park when he came to Oxford in June with, from left, Taro Kili, of Pegasus, Daniel Newtron, of Fusion, city council leader Bob Price, Gill Jaggers, of Pegasus and musician Nick Cope Picture: David Fleming

A FORMER scholarship student at Oxford’s Pegasus Theatre has told of the moment he watched his friend die in a rocket attack in Gaza.

Just months after returning to the Palestinian country, Mahmoud Balawi, 17, was caught up in a fierce bombing when two jet fighter missiles hit land near his house.

His friend was killed instantly, but somehow he survived the shelling.

The theatre company runs the Pegasus Gaza Scholarship and has brought almost 20 young people over from the troubled region in the last two years.

Mahmoud was responding to an urgent message from the group asking after their welfare.

In a desperate reply he wrote: “I am in a very bad situation. Warplane fired two missiles, the area in front of our house. Oh my God.

“Missile was beside me very much, but the sad thing here, the missile killed my friend. I do not know what happens, I almost died, I almost died. I feel terrified and destruction at every moment, I can not believe what happened to me. I want to go or escape to a safe area in Gaza.

“Sorry I spoke, but this is what happens in areas near me. I wish to live after the war. Mahmoud.”

The battle over Gaza between Israel and Hamas has escalated over the last week, with many reported civilian casualties.

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During his time in Oxford during the summer, Mahmoud made many friends, and the theatre group has been inundated with messages of support for him.

A quiet teenager with hopes of becoming a doctor, he gained experience in technical theatre and helped younger arts groups at Pegasus in a variety of projects before heading back to Gaza in July.

Pegasus head of creative learning Yasmin Sidhwa said the message she received broke the hearts of the group. It was in stark contrast to a message he sent before the bombing to thank Pegasus for everything the group had done to him.

It read: “Jasmine I’m very happy with this energy inside of me and the great confidence that I had of this grant, which helped me to communicate with a very great people in my community.

“A warm greeting to all members of the Pegasus Theatre, and I hope to see you again.”

City council leader Bob Price met Mahmoud during the run-up to the Olympics and said he hoped for peace in the troubled region.

He said: “It is a continuing war and it is very sad to hear Mahmoud has been caught up in this way.

“He was a lovely, quiet lad but we enjoyed a chat about England, he was commenting on how green it was. He loved music and I remember he was extremely passionate about the arts.”

Mrs Sidhwa said: “Pegasus’ concern is the young people, young people who have no say in what is going on in this conflict, who witness their friends and family being killed and who exist in a state of terror – we cannot be silent when this is going on to young people we know and care about.”

Israel and the Hamas movement which governs Gaza last night agreed a ceasefire to end a week of violence in which nearly 160 people have died, Egyptian and Hamas officials said.

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