Palestinian medical records in the Gaza Strip show that a paraplegic man who died during a violent protest along the border with Israel earlier this month was killed by a bullet that struck him in the head.
The records, obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, shed new light on a case that has become a rallying cry among Palestinians in the weeks US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, who lost his legs in a separate incident several years ago, was killed on December 15 in clashes that broke out along Gaza’s border with Israel. Palestinians say Abu Thurayeh was shot deliberately by an Israeli sniper — a claim the military denies.
The medical records, which include a hospital report and a death certificate, say that Abu Thurayeh, 29, was struck by a bullet above his left eye and died from bleeding in the brain. The same findings were detailed in a report by the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service reviewed by the AP.
The reports did not specify who fired the bullet or what caliber it was.
While the December 15 clash turned violent, with protesters hurling stones, firebombs and burning tires at the border fence, witnesses have said there was no gunfire from the Palestinian side.
The protest came amid a wave of violence that has erupted in the Palestinian territories since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. Twelve people have died so far, almost all in Gaza. Hamas, the terror group that controls Gaza, has urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and allowed thousands of Gazans to clash with Israeli troops at the border fence. Its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, praised the “blessed intifada,” urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain the group was seeking to intensify violence against Israel.
A picture of Abu Thurayeh in a wheelchair, raising the Palestinian flag and flashing a “victory” sign, has become ubiquitous in Gaza. He has emerged as a symbol of resistance to Trump’s Jerusalem move, which the Palestinians largely see as siding with Israel.
An Israeli military investigation after the shooting said Abu Thurayeh had participated in an “extremely violent” protest. The investigation, which the military closed after one day, said that live fire was employed against the main instigators but was not directed at Abu Thurayeh, and that it was impossible to determine the cause of his death.
The investigation cleared troops of any wrongdoing and said it found no “moral or professional failures” in the soldiers’ conduct. The military says it has repeatedly requested information about Abu Thurayeh’s injuries through official channels and would examine any information provided.
The AP showed the report from Gaza’s Shifa hospital and the death certificate to the army. In a statement, the military noted the report had come from the media and said it “will be studied and examined during the following days.”
Alyona Synenko, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the organization has an “ongoing dialogue” with authorities in Israel and Gaza. She said all talks are confidential and that she could not elaborate.
On Saturday a top Israeli general said there was no basis for reports that Abu Thurayeh was targeted by an Israeli army sniper or deliberately shot by Israeli troops.
An IDF investigation did not establish that Abu Thurayeh died as a result of IDF fire, Maj. Gen Yoav Mordechai, the IDF liaison to the Palestinians, wrote on his Facebook page in Arabic. And there was “no basis for the false reports that a sniper deliberately targeted” him, Mordechai said.
Neither Mordechai’s statement nor the public portions of the army’s investigations explicitly denied that Abu Thurayeh was killed by Israeli troops, only that he was not deliberately targeted with live bullets.
Throughout the protest, IDF soldiers made extensive use of riot dispersal weapons, namely tear gas and rubber bullets. Though these are meant to be less lethal than standard bullets, there have nevertheless been numerous cases of people being killed after getting hit by rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, or from complications connected to inhaling the gas itself.
Abu Thurayeh was a well-known figure in Gaza.
While relatives have claimed Abu Thurayeh lost his legs in an Israeli airstrike while trying to rescue people, AP records show that he was wounded on April 11, 2008, in a clash between Israeli forces and Palestinian operatives in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. AP television footage from that day shows Abu Thurayeh identifying himself as he is taken away on the back of a pickup truck.
Both gunmen and civilians were wounded and killed that day, and it is not clear whether Abu Thurayeh had participated in the violence. Since losing his legs, he often rolled around Gaza City, earning a living by washing cars. He also was a frequent participant in protests along the border with Israel.
Ahmed Yaghi, who was also protesting on December 15, said Abu Thurayeh and some others stood about 15 meters from the border fence, facing soldiers behind a mound of sand. He said he saw a soldier assuming a shooting position and then he heard one gunshot.
“I ran closer and saw Ibrahim bleeding from his forehead. He was on the wheelchair. Some youths pushed him on the chair away and then carried him to the ambulance,” Yaghi said.
He said that two days before he was killed, Israeli soldiers across the border fence and called on him by name through a loudspeaker, asking him to leave the area.
Hamas, which normally praises its fighters killed in battle, has not identified him as a member; nor has any other terror group.
Editor’s note: An updated response from the military was added into the article.