The spokesman for the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Wednesday he did not know the cause of death of an 8-month baby who died near the Gaza border on Monday in an incident that made headlines around the world.
Speaking to The Times of Israel by telephone, Dr. Ashraf Al-Qudra, director of public relations for the ministry, said the cause of death of Layla Ghandour was not definitively known and was being investigated.
“We are awaiting the pathologist’s report,” Al-Qudra said.
Asked whether the baby was included in the death toll released by his ministry of fatalities in the violence at the border, he said the numbers of dead had not yet been matched with the names.
Reports that she had died from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during mass protests on the Gaza border with Israel were prominent in global news coverage of the violence for much of Tuesday. Her funeral was filmed and featured on global TV news broadcasts and newspaper front pages.
On Tuesday afternoon, however, a Gazan doctor told The Associated Press that Ghandour had a preexisting medical condition and that he did not believe her death was caused by tear gas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to disclose medical information to the media.
In an article published by AFP on Tuesday afternoon, the baby’s mother, Mariam al-Ghandour, said, “The Israelis killed her.”
The baby’s mother was not asked whether the baby had a preexisting medical condition, and the family indicated to the AFP reporter that she had been healthy, The Times of Israel was told.
However, a New York Times report on Thursday said the family acknowledged the baby was not healthy. “The Ghandour family acknowledged that Layla suffered from patent ductus arteriosus, a congenital heart disease commonly described as a hole in the heart,” that report said.
A Gaza human rights group, Al Mezan, said Tuesday it was looking into the circumstances of the infant’s death.
The IDF’s Arabic spokesman Avichay Adraee tweeted Tuesday that Israel had “several testimonies” that called into question the authenticity of claims regarding the circumstances of the baby’s death.
Mariam, herself only 17, explained to AFP that she had a dentist appointment “so I left Leila with my brothers at home.”
“My little brother took her and went to the border,” she said.
The brother, 11-year-old Ammar, said he mistakenly thought his sister was at the border with his mother and other family members. “So I took her with me on the bus.” He added: “I feel I am the reason (for her death).”
Close to the border he eventually found his mother Heyam and handed Leila over to her. They stayed only a few minutes, Heyam insisted, before tear gas rained down on them.
“I could barely breathe,” she said. “We got away from the gas and gave Leila to my sister and went looking for two other children so we could leave. She drank juice but was crying a lot. Then she went silent. I thought she was sleeping.”
It was only when they got off the bus that they noticed her skin had turned blue, the family said.
“I rushed to the hospital. They told me she had been dead more than an hour,” Heyam said.
The Gaza Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry said Tuesday morning 60 Palestinians had been killed during violent clashes along the territory’s border with Israel the previous day.
Eight of those killed by gunshots in the clashes were children, the ministry said.
The IDF said Tuesday that 24 of those killed were members of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups. Later Tuesday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad acknowledged that 13 of the dead were its members. And on Wednesday, a Hamas official said 50 of the dead were Hamas members.
“In the last rounds of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, 50 of the martyrs were Hamas and 12 from the people. How can Hamas reap the fruits if it pays such an expensive price?” said Hamas official Salah Bardawil in an interview with the Palestinian Baladna news outlet.
Israel accused the Hamas terror group 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.