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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 February 2006, 11:18 GMT
Ferry anguish for an Egyptian family
By Martin Patience
BBC News website, Safaga

Hassan Eliwa
Hassan Eliwa: 'What can I say? His three sons are missing'

This week is supposed to be one of celebration for Hassan Eliwa and his family, but it is slowly turning to tragedy.

His cousins, Mohammed, 38, Samir, 31, and Ahmed, 26 - three brothers - were travelling back from Saudi Arabia, where they work, to prepare for Ahmed's wedding.

But the family has heard no word of them since the Egyptian ferry sank.

Mr Eliwa, 31, says the family are still desperately clinging to the hope that the brothers will be found alive.

As the tragedy enters a third day, however, the family must know that the odds of their survival are growing ever-longer.

Mr Eliwa made the eight-hour bus journey from Cairo to the port-town of Safaga to wait for news about his missing cousins.

Close-knit family

Other family members are also at the port entrance, including his uncle, but Mr Eliwa says he cannot face speaking to him.

"I cannot go," he says, wiping a tear from his eye.

The only reason they were away from home was work - but as soon as they could, they would fly back to the nest
Hassan Eliwa

"I saw my uncle, but I cannot speak to him. What can I say? His three sons are missing. How can he cope? I can't speak to him, I just can't."

For the close-knit family, the plight of the three brothers is causing unbelievable anguish and suffering.

Brought up in the small town of Ouwlid Khalifa, a two hour drive south of Luxor, the three brothers are known for their sense of humour.

Meal together

"All of them are so much fun," says Mr Eliwa. "They are always joking about and laughing. You just have to look at them and they would make your laugh."

Tall, with green eyes - which is unusual in Egypt - the three brothers were working in Saudi Arabia because they couldn't find work in their home country.

An injured survivor of the ferry sinking is unloaded by paramedics at the port of Hurghada, Egypt
The ferry tragedy is being felt right across Egypt

Mr Eliwa, a receptionist in a Cairo hotel, says the last time he saw his cousins was three years ago. The cousins sat down together and ate a traditional Egyptian meal of chicken, salad and hummus.

Mr Eliwa says he does not remember any particular details about the night "but it was fun as always, they're very special people".

While the boys' father was in Safaga, their mother was waiting for news in their home town. Mr Eliwa says the whole family is "growing crazy with worry".

The family also has a single daughter who was not on the ferry.

'So special'

Mr Eliwa says his aunt, mother of the three brothers, "loves her children".

"The only reason they were away from home was work. But as soon as they could, they would fly back to the nest."

In Egypt, where family ties are very strong, Mr Eliwa says the tragedy is being felt across the country.

Mr Eliwa's mother travelled to Ouwlid Khalifa to comfort her sister. His father wanted to travel to Safaga but remained in Cairo as he is elderly.

Outside the port, Mr Eliwa says he will stay to get news. "You know what the problem is?" he asks.

"The problem is that my three cousins are so special."

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