Death from tear gas or a bad heart? No ruling yet on Gaza baby

Hamas-run health ministry says it’s still waiting for results of forensics report on Layla Ghandour, will keep her off list of those allegedly killed by Israel in border clashes

The mother of Layla Ghandour holds her at the morgue of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on May 15, 2018. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)
The mother of Layla Ghandour holds her at the morgue of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on May 15, 2018. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry spokesman said Wednesday that the death of a 9-month-old girl remains under investigation, two weeks after a medical official cast doubt on initial claims that she has died from Israeli tear gas.

A medical report issued on May 14, the day of Layla Ghandour’s death, and seen by The Associated Press this week makes no mention of tear gas. The report said she suffered from a congenital heart defect and died after her blood circulation and respiratory system stopped.

When asked about the significance of the report, two doctors offered conflicting views on whether tear gas would have been mentioned if it had been suspected of having contributed to the infant’s death. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case with the media.

The infant died during a day of mass protests on the Gaza-Israel border when over 40,000 Palestinians took part in an “unprecedentedly” violent riot along the border, according to the Israeli army. The march was part of a series of weekly protests led by Gaza’s rulers, the Islamic terror group Hamas. There were also smaller protests the next day.

A Palestinian woman holding her national flag looks at clashes with Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018 (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Reports that she had died from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during mass protests on the Gaza border were prominent in global news coverage of the violence for much of the day when she died. Her funeral was filmed and featured on global TV news broadcasts and newspaper front pages.

The Hamas-run health ministry initially said at least 62 people were killed during May 14-15 and a Hamas official said at least 50 of them were members of the terror group. Israel accused Hamas of encouraging the protests and using them as cover to attempt to carry out terror attacks, including firing at troops and attempting to breach the border fence.

During the clashes thousands of demonstrators burned tires, threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops across the fence and, in a few cases, engaged in armed battles with the IDF. Israel says its actions — and in particular the use of live ammunition — are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the territory.

Layla’s relatives claimed she was inadvertently taken to the scene of the protests, due to miscommunication among family members, and that she was near the fence when tear gas fell in the area. They say she was rushed to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Photograph of Layla Ghandour posted by Gaza heath ministry spokesman early on May 15, 2018. (Facebook)

On May 14, the Gaza Health Ministry initially said she died from tear gas fired by Israeli forces. After her funeral the following day, a medical official told the AP that he believed a serious preexisting medical condition was to blame for the death.

The ministry later said it was referring the case to the forensic medicine department to issue a ruling.

Hamas’s Justice Ministry, which controls the forensic medicine department, said it ended its investigation and referred the file to Gaza’s attorney general. Both authorities have declined to comment.

An official Health Ministry list of those killed in the protests between March 30 and May 19 had 112 names, but the infant was not on the list. The baby’s family refused to share hospital reports with the AP, after initially promising to do so.

Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra told reporters in a WhatsApp group on Wednesday that officials are still “waiting for the forensics report” and that in the meantime, the infant’s name would be kept off the list of those killed in the protests.

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