Medical personnel claim Israel tested new weapons during attacks on Gaza
Doctors describe injuries inconsistent with previously used ammunition
Palestinians perform Friday prayers yesterday in the remains of a Gaza City mosque that witnesses said was hit by an Israeli air strike during the seven-week Israeli offensive. Photograph: Reuters/Ahmed Zakot
Doctors and an ambulance officer believe Israel tested new weapons during its July 8th – August 26th assault on the Gaza Strip.
Ambulance officer Ibrahim Abu Kas of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society has worked through the last three wars between Israel and Hamas. “In this war, I saw things I never could have imagined,” he says. “The five children from the al-Jaal family in Zeitoun were the strangest thing I ever saw in my life.”
The room where three girls and two boys were sleeping was hit by an Israeli tank shell while their mother, father and grandmother sat in another room. “Their bodies were hot. Their hair and skin were black liked charred wood. When their parents arrived at the hospital, they didn’t recognise them,” Abu Kas continues. “But there had been no fire, only white smoke.”
Third-degree burnsAbu Kas’s account corroborates what Dr Sobhi Skaik, chief surgeon and medical director at Shifa hospital and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, told me earlier: “We saw third-degree burns that cannot be explained; neither flame burns nor chemical burns. It was as if the patient became mummified, and most of them died. Their skin blackened and their tissue became tough and solid. I saw dozens of patients like this in the intensive care unit, from the Ajour and Hijazi families, among others.”
Abu Kas worked 24 hours on/24 hours off for the first 40 days of the war, then round the clock, with brief naps in the Red Crescent office for the last 10 days. “I saw more than a dozen bodies that looked normal, with no marks or wounds. But when we touched them they were slippery. If you tried to pick them up, the flesh fell off like jelly. We had to roll them in blankets.”
Doctors at Shifa hospital heard rumours of chemical weapons or gas. “I saw a man whose limbs were jerking and he could not breathe before he died, but he had no wounds,” Abu Kas recounts. Earlier, he had picked up people who were suffocating but survived.
Also early in the conflict, Abu Kas found a man sitting frozen in a chair, dead, but with no apparent wounds. When Israeli ground troops began pulling out, his ambulance followed in their wake. He discovered the bodies of five Palestinian fighters, seemingly frozen like the man in the chair, at least two of whom still clutched guns. Each had a small bullet hole in the forehead. “I think they were already dead when they were shot point blank,” Abu Kas continues.
“The Israelis listen to our communications, and they must have known we were talking about chemicals or gas. I think they shot the dead fighters to hide how they died.”
In the previous war, Israel was criticised for extensive use of white phosphorous, which causes horrific burn wounds. Dr Skaik saw 90 per cent of the 4,500 wounded brought to Shifa, Gaza’s biggest public hospital. He did not find white phosphorous wounds in this war, though two eyewitnesses told me they saw the characteristic white jellyfish-like clouds over Shujaiya. Two sources confirmed the use of flechettes, tiny darts fired in anti-personnel tank shells, which cut their victims into mincemeat.
Whatever new weapons Israel may have used, “The worst illegal weapons are the siege, which is illegal collective punishment, the disproportionate use of force and the lack of discrimination between civilian and military targets,” says the Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, who worked at Shifa during the war.
An emergency worker at Shifa called al-Yazdi found the bodies of his father and mother in the back of an ambulance.
“One day, I didn’t carry a single living body – only dead people for 24 hours,” says Abu Kas. “In previous wars, we could treat most of the wounded,” says Dr Skaik. “This time, the number and magnitude of wounds was far greater. One third were dead on arrival.”
Hospitals closedMore than a dozen ambulances were destroyed – “51 per cent of all major clinics and hospitals were damaged, and 27 per cent remain closed because of damage or lack of personnel,” says Anders Thomsen of the UN Population Fund.
Abu Kas lists four places where the Israelis returned and attacked civilians and rescue workers who rushed to the site of a bombing. “The pilots can see my wristwatch from the cockpit, so they can certainly see the ambulances, fire engines and police cars,” he says.
At about 5.30pm on July 30th, Abu Kas’s ambulance was called to Shujaiya, one of the worst hit areas. “There were two bodies lying on the ground, and civilians brought me a girl with a head wound. It didn’t look too bad, so I put her in the ambulance and went into a building where there were severely wounded people.”
During a nightmarish hour of Israeli tankfire, Abu Kas was wounded in the hand and leg and the Palestinian news photographer Rami Rayan was killed beside the ambulance.
The girl was on Abu Kas’s mind as he administered first aid to the wounded. By the time he returned, the ambulance had been hit and the wounded child’s brains were spilling out. “I carried her body to another ambulance,” Abu Kas says. He is crying. “I think about her all the time. If I die, it doesn’t matter, because I’ve lived 35 years. But she was only 12 years old.”