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Swede reunited with viral child 'reporter' in Gaza

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Swede reunited with viral child 'reporter' in Gaza
Yazan Hilis pictured last year. Photo: Johan-Mathias Sommarström
11:25 CEST+02:00
A photo of a Palestinian boy hoping to stay safe by dressing up as a war correspondent melted hearts around the world in 2014. But when the real-life Swedish journalist who took the snap returned to Gaza a year later, the child told him he was now set on being a pilot.
Yazan Hilis was just six years old when he was forced to flee from Shujaiyah, an area of the Gaza Strip where there was intense violence a year ago including a night of non-stop Israeli bombing.
 
He and his family sought refuge on a construction site close to a hotel in Gaza city where a number of international journalists were staying.
 
The boy was wearing a black garbage bag designed to mimic a flak jacket when he came across Johan-Mathias Sommarström, a reporter for Swedish public broadcaster Sveriges Radio. He told the real-life journalist that he wanted to become a war correspondent when he grew up, because he knew that media were less likely to get shot.
 
After borrowing Sommarström's helmet to complete his outfit, the Swedish broadcaster tweeted a photo of Yalis, which went viral - retweeted by 10,000 people and picked up by other media around the world.
READ ALSO: Swedish dad takes gamer kids to warzone
 
A year later, the Swede is currently back in Gaza and has been to Shujaiyah, where Yazan's family are trying to rebuild their lives now the fighting has stopped.
 
He told The Local on Monday that he and his producer had spent ages trying to track the little boy down by asking around the neighbourhood, before finally spotting him playing outside his house.
 
"He was very shy at first. But after a few minutes he started to talk. How he remembers the war (he mostly remembers the terrifying sound of missiles and F16 fighter jets)," said Sommarström.
 
"He also remembers the day I took the photo of him. He was shy he told me, but very proud to borrow my helmet. He's seen the picture both on TV and on the computer...he wore that plastic flak jacket so the Israelis wouldn’t shoot him, because 'they don’t shoot journalists'," the Swede added.
 
According to Sommarström, Yazan and his family have become "kind of celebrities in the town", with his grandfather explaining that plenty of people have approached him to say “I've seen the picture of your grandson, He's a great guy”.
 
But the child, who is now seven, has other ideas about his future.
 
"Now his dream is not to be a journalist anymore. He wants to be a pilot or a sheikh," explained Sommarström.
 
The Swedish reporter is using his latest series of radio reports to highlight the plight of Palestinians in the region who are still suffering a year on from the violence. He told The Local that while Yazan and his family are safe, much of their town remains in ruins.
 
"To be back in Gaza for the first time after the war is strange. People are suffering a shortage of food, electricity and fuel. Many of the destroyed houses are still ruins, like memories of worse days...In some places people have begun to take away the rubble. But not much has been rebuilt," he said.
 
"To meet little Yazan again was best thing about the trip."
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