The Gaza Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry said Tuesday morning that a baby was among those killed during violent border clashes along the territory’s border with Israel the previous day, bringing the overall death toll in the day’s bloody events to 60. A Gaza doctor later disputed this, as did Israel.
The baby died from inhaling tear gas fired at Palestinian protesters, the health ministry said.
Eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour was exposed to gas fired by Israeli forces east of Gaza City, it said. It was not immediately clear how close to the border fence Ghandour and her family were.
A Gazan doctor later told the Associated Press that the baby 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.
Layla’s family claimed Tuesday that the baby had ended up in the area of the protest as a result of a mixup, the AP reported added.
A Gaza human rights group, Al Mezan, said it was looking into the circumstances of the infant’s death.
The IDF’s Arabic spokesman Avichay Adraee tweeted later Tuesday in Arabic that Israel has “several testimonies” that placed the authenticity of claims regarding the circumstances of the baby’s death in question.
Eight of those killed by gunshots in the clashes were children, the ministry said. In addition, 1,360 Palestinians were wounded by gunfire, including 130 who were in serious or critical condition. It said 2,771 people were injured overall.
Hebrew-language media, quoting Palestinian sources, reported that 10 of those killed were terror operatives.
It was by far the deadliest day of cross-border violence since the devastating 2014 war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Throughout the day, Gaza protesters set tires ablaze, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air, and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops across the border.
The Israeli military, which has come under international criticism for its use of force against protesters, said Hamas tried to carry out bombing and shooting attacks under the cover of the protests and released video of protesters ripping away parts of the barbed-wire border fence.
Israeli forces were gearing up Tuesday for a second straight day of protests and the prospect that they may spread, as Palestinians mark a yearly commemoration of the mass displacement of Palestinian Arabs during the 1948 war with Israel, which they term the “catastrophe,” or Nakba.
Tuesday is expected to be the culmination of seven weeks of protests at the Gaza border fence, with Israeli fears that more than 100,000 Palestinians could take part in widespread demonstrations encouraged by the Hamas terror group.
Similar demonstrations are expected in the West Bank and possibly along the Lebanese border.
Nakba Day, commemorated every year on May 15, is often punctuated by protests and demonstrations in the Palestinian territories and along Israel’s borders, which this year are expected to be far more severe due to anger over the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem on Monday.
A majority of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of 1948 refugees, and the protests have been billed as the “Great March of Return” to long-lost homes in what is now Israel. Hamas leaders have also said the marches and protests are designed to erase the border and “liberate Palestine.”
Israel withdrew all troops and civilians from Gaza in 2005 but maintains a blockade of the Strip that it says is designed to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the territory. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of the Strip from the Palestinian Authority two years later.
On Monday, some 40,000 Palestinians took part in the protests along the fence, at their peak, and thousands more demonstrated hundreds of meters from the border, according to the Israeli military, which accused Hamas of encouraging the violence.
The protests, a day before the traditional Nakba Day, came as the US inaugurated its embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has drawn fierce Palestinian anger as well as international protests.
The Israel Defense Forces called the clashes “unprecedented,” compared to past weeks.
The violence drew international condemnation of Israel and calls for calm. The United Nations Security Council was due to discuss the deaths in an emergency meeting called by Kuwait Tuesday, though the US blocked the panel from moving forward with a statement calling for an independent probe and expressing “outrage.”