First Published: 2006-07-27

Mysterious wounds from Israeli shells in Gaza

Palestinians accuse Israel of using new bombs that cause burn injuries never seen before.


Middle East Online

By Jennie Matthew - GAZA CITY

Most patients were afflicted below the waist

"When the bomb exploded from the plane. I felt I was in hell. Real hell," shouts 31-year-old Ghassan stabbing the air with his finger and straining over the side of his grubby hospital bed.

Professing allegiance to Palestinian national security but parroting ideology atune to armed factions, Ghassan went to Gaza's Maghazi refugee camp last week to fight the Israelis during a particularly bloody incursion.

"I feel chemicals. I feel high heat, I feel high pain," he elaborates in English, both legs heavily bandaged, as patients and visitors brush past in a crowded corridor of Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital.

"They found shrapnel with 'test' written on it," he shouts.

Accusations abound that the Israelis, pressing a nearly five-week offensive in which 130 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, are using a new weapon.

Doctors say they have never before seen such specific burn injuries, concentrated so much on the lower body and causing such a high propensity of amputations. The health ministry has already called for an independent inquiry.

A French humanitarian group reported unusually severe injuries. One of its doctors reportedly raised the possibility that Israel used cluster bombs.

In response to a query about use of a new type of weapon possibly containing chemicals, the army said only that "specific claims are being checked".

"The IDF (Israel Defence Force) use of weapon and ammunition conforms with international law," it said in a statement.

But the Palestinian health ministry spokesman said that "we are sure that the occupation forces are using bombs that are forbidden under international law."

At the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah, Habes el-Wehedi, a softly spoken senior surgeon, said medical staff were "amazed" by injuries of more than 30 percent of the wounded admitted from Maghazi.

"There were amputations of limbs. Most patients were afflicted below the waist. They had burns all over their lower limb," he said.

Others were afflicted by what he described as "translucent shrapnel not shown by X-ray" that caused burns.

Wehedi studied in Romania and throughout his 20 years in emergency medicine in Gaza and Jerusalem says this is the first time he's seen such wounds.

A piece of plastic with the word "test" written on it had been found. "I think it was in one of the patient's wounds or something like that. One of the nurses came to me. I saw it myself and touched it with my hand."

Admitting there are no analysis laboratories in the poorly equipped hospital, he confesses he has no concrete proof only "suspicion" that the Israelis shelled something other than the usual tank and plane fodder.

"As far as we are concerned, this is a new weapon for us. This could be phosphorus, chemicals or a mix, but until we find out and conduct an analysis we can't say what type exactly," he said.

Visiting two patients bearing the hallmarks of such injuries who have not yet been discharged or sent for referral, Wehedi gently points out the injuries on a 16 and 17-year-old boy.

Ismail el-Sawaferi's lower legs, torso and face are splattered everywhere with flecks of burn. His thighs and abdomen are heavily bandaged. The 17-year-old said he was standing in a group attacked from the air.

"I saw a light shinning in my face. I couldn't hear anything. I was deaf. I lost my clothes and after that I woke up in the emergency room," he said.

Wehedi's suspicions are backed up by fellow Deir al-Balah hospital doctor Ismail Bashir, 40, who has been working in emergency medicine since the first Palestinian uprising broke out in 1987.

Stuart Shepherd from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said "some kind of inquiry" was needed, confirming that the Palestinian health ministry had already requested an independent commission of inquiry.

French group Medecins du Monde said its emergency doctor, Regis Garrigues, who has traveled regularly to Gaza "noted the particular gravity and severity of injuries" from the latest conflict.

Garrigues was quoted as telling French newspaper Liberation that "this resembles the effects of cluster bombs", particularly dangerous because they have a high level of duds that can explode much later after the attack.

The US-based rights group, Human Rights Watch, also accused Israel of using artillery-fired cluster munitions in Lebanon.


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