Israeli doctor: Syrian snipers deliberately paralyzing children

Gunmen are shooting to ’cause misery’ rather than kill; numerous young victims treated in Israel, returned home with donated wheelchairs

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Nihad and her father at the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, March 11, 2014 (photo credit: courtesy/Western Galilee Hospital)
Nihad and her father at the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, March 11, 2014 (photo credit: courtesy/Western Galilee Hospital)

NAHARIYA — Syrian children are being intentionally targeted by snipers aiming to paralyze rather than kill them, an Israeli doctor told The Times of Israel.

Dr. Yoav Hoffman, a senior physician at the pediatric intensive care unit of Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, said that his department has received 25 seriously injured Syrian children between the ages of a few months and 17 since last July, delivered to the hospital by the IDF.

Located 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border with Lebanon, Western Galilee Hospital has treated a total of 230 Syrians since March 2013, many of them sent to the facility’s new neurosurgery department.

Hoffman said that up to six of his unit’s patients have displayed distinct bullet injuries that indicate intentional sniper targeting.

“The injuries are very specific: gunshot wounds from a single bullet to the lumbar spine, near vertebrates 2 and 3,” Hoffman told The Times of Israel. “These shootings are not intended to kill, but to cause misery. They result in paralysis or slow death in Syria’s conditions.”

Hoffman said that he had never seen such injuries outside the battlefield; his colleagues initially believed that the spinal injuries were a coincidence. But when patients displaying the same injuries kept coming in, the hospital staff was “moved to tears” as it realized that the children were being targeted.

Pediatrician Dr. Yoav Hoffman at Nahariya's Western Galilee Hospital, March 11, 2014 (photo credit: Kate Shuttleworth)
Pediatrician Dr. Yoav Hoffman at Nahariya’s Western Galilee Hospital, March 11, 2014 (photo credit: Kate Shuttleworth)

Most of the children treated in Nahariya have received little or no treatment in the field in Syria, Hoffman noted, adding that the children often arrive alone with no medical records. In addition to bullet wounds, children typically arrive with multi-traumatic injuries resulting from explosions.

Such is the case of three-year-old Nihad (not her real name), collected by the Free Syrian Army with her father after a government bombardment of their home in Daraa on February 19. Nihad lost her twin brother in the attack and sustained a severe head injury.

“The treatment here is excellent,” says Nihad’s father, who became overwhelmed by emotion as he described the horrible sight of his slain son. He is now preparing to return to Syria in the coming days with his daughter.

Well over 1,000 Syrians have been treated by Israel so far, 700 of them in a field hospital set up by the military near the frontier on the Golan Heights and others in civilian hospitals across northern Israel.

The children left paralyzed return home to Syria in wheelchairs donated by the Friends of the Western Galilee Hospital, Hoffman said.

“You can tell they’re extremely scarred emotionally,” he said. “But they’re very grateful for the treatment.”

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