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20 years after Canary Wharf bombing, IRA 'claims another life' as victim's wife passes away

Friends say Gemma Berezag's health failed as she nursed badly maimed husband

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 20/05/2016

Zaoui Berezag, who was left with terrible injuries after the Docklands bombing in 1996 and his wife Gemma who died last week
Zaoui Berezag, who was left with terrible injuries after the Docklands bombing in 1996 and his wife Gemma who died last week
Gemma Berezag with her husband Zaoui
Docklands bombing in 1996
Campaigner: Kenny Donaldson

A woman who dedicated her life to caring for her disabled husband after he was maimed by an IRA bomb has passed away. Friends of Gemma Berezag said she became another victim of the blast which almost killed her beloved Zaoui 20 years earlier.

He was left with terrible injuries and needed round-the-clock help after being caught up in the explosion in London's Docklands in 1996.

Mrs Berezag had been in declining health as she struggled with the huge responsibility.

In the last year she had penned an emotional letter to David Cameron, pleading with the Prime Minister for help.

However, her health deteriorated when she failed to get the assistance she desperately needed.

She passed away last Thursday aged 58, and was buried on Tuesday.

Victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson said the IRA carried responsibility for her death.

"Undoubtedly Gemma Berezag's life has been cut short as a consequence of that PIRA bomb in 1996, as she and her family were and are innocent victims," he said.

The Berezags' lives changed forever when an IRA bomb devastated London's Docklands on February 9, 1996.

Mrs Berezag had stayed at home from her cleaning job in the Midland Bank to nurse her youngest child, Rajaa.

Her husband, helped by their son Farid and oldest daughter Layla, did the shift in her place.

The bomb exploded in a small lorry just 80 yards from the local railway station just after 7pm.

It went off as Mr Berezag sat in his car outside a small shop run by Inan Bashir and John "JJ" Jeffries.

The two shopkeepers were killed, while dozens more were injured. They included Mr Berezag, who was horrifically maimed.

He was left blind, paralysed, brain-damaged and later had to have his left leg amputated.

In a 2008 interview, Mrs Berezag said: "We lost everything that day.

"I lost my job, my car - and lost my husband as far as I'm concerned. I lost my health - the lot."

For the last 20 years Mrs Berezag had given her husband around-the-clock care.

Last year she spoke out after it emerged that people outside Northern Ireland may not qualify for a special pension for victims of the Troubles.

Mrs Berezag wrote a heartbreaking letter to David Cameron, setting out the problems she faced.

"My Zaoui is disabled because the IRA came to London to hurt him and so many good people in the Canary Wharf IRA attack on February 9, 1996.

"My friends Bashir and JJ were also killed. The IRA killed so many and caused so many people to be disabled in the UK.

"My Zaoui is now very ill and getting very worse.

"He is blind, paralysed, brain damaged and has no leg because [the] IRA hurt him and they also hurt so many others in the UK.

"I do my best to care for Zaoui, he is now in nappies and is in a special medical bed.

"Things are very difficult and Zaoui can't remember me and his family, but I will do my best to care for him as I love him and can't imagine my life without him.

"I found it a struggle as I have to buy nappies and care for him with little help."

In a direct appeal to Mr Cameron, she urged the Prime Minister: "I beg you please help my Zaoui and all those who need help in the UK".

Mrs Berezag had been a member of the Dockland Victims Association.

Its president, Jonathan Ganesh, said he had lost a true friend.

"I knew her for 30 years. She was a decent, kind, caring woman who gave Zaoui the best care possible, with limited resources," he said. "She was a wonderfully decent woman and I am going to miss her ever so much.

"I am absolutely heartbroken - I loved that woman."

Mr Ganesh said he believes Mrs Berezag was failed by the UK government. "She had said she was struggling, that she couldn't cope, that she needed certain things," he added.

"American victims of IRA-Libya terrorism were given access to new wheelchairs, private healthcare - Zaoui was given nothing because he had the wrong passport.

"Gemma was let down by the UK Government, and her untimely demise demonstrates that."

Mr Donaldson, from the South East Fermanagh Foundation, had helped Mrs Berezag and her family in recent years.

He said that before her death, Gemma Berezag had suffered greatly.

"The Berezag family were brutalised by terrorism in 1996 when the PIRA detonated a bomb in Canary Wharf. That day they were given a life sentence through the horrific injuries Zaoui sustained," he added.

"Gemma bore the brunt of that life sentence, for her and Zaoui there was no early remission.

"Yet throughout the last 20 years the Berezags bore their pain with immense dignity.

"Gemma was a courageous and beautiful human being who possessed a strong faith in basic humanity.

"She fought quietly but robustly for justice, truth, accountability and fairness around the circumstances visited upon her family."

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