Doctors struggle to deal with unusual wounds


'Abdallah Qishqu, whose house was destroyed by an Israeli air strike on 28 December, speaking to Amnesty International mission delegates, Gaza, 20 January 2009 ©Amnesty International

Today, Tuesday, it seemed as though Gaza was beginning to draw a collective breath after the shock of the past three weeks of Israeli bombardments. The streets, previously deserted, filled up again and tens of thousands of people who had fled their homes for fear of Israeli attacks began returning to them. But thousands have no homes to which to return because so many were destroyed by Israeli forces.

In Gaza City’s Zaitoun neighbourhood, where scores of homes were flattened by Israeli air strikes and bulldozers women and children were rummaging through the rubble of their homes, trying to recover the little that could be salvaged.

At a mourning tent amidst the rubble the surviving member of the Sammouni family received condolences and recited prayers for their 29 relatives killed by Israeli forces. Salah Sammouni told us that Israeli soldiers had evicted them from their home, which they then used as a military base, and told them to stay in their relatives’ house across the road, only to bomb it the following day.


Rescue workers pull the bodies of members of the Sammuni family from the rubble of their home, Zaytoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, 18 January 2009. ©Amnesty International

Some died on the spot, they said, while others were left to die, as the Israeli army did not allow the ambulances to approach the house to evacuate the wounded for several days.

We then visited the Qishqu and al-Daya families whose homes were both destroyed by Israeli bombardments. ‘Abdallah Qishqu, whose house was destroyed by an Israeli air strike on 28 December, told us that his wife, who was seriously injured in the attack, still does not know that their eight-year-old daughter, Ibtihal, was killed in the explosion together with their daughter-in-law, Maisa.

At the Shifa hospital, Gaza’s main hospital, the head of the Burns Unit told us that when the first patients with phosphorus burns were brought in, doctors in the Burns Unit did not realise what had caused the injuries.

“The first thing we noticed were cases with orange burns, different from the burns we are used to dealing with. They started with patches and after a while they would become deeper with an offensive odour and after several hours smoke started coming from the wound,” the doctor said.

“We had a child of three years with a head injury. After three hours we changed the dressing and saw smoke coming out of the wound. We opened the wound and brought out this wedge. We had not seen it before. Later on, some colleagues, doctors from Egypt and Norway, were able to enter Gaza and told us that this was white phosphorus.

“We noticed various things about this: the burn does not heal; the phosphorus may remain inside the body and goes on burning there, and the general condition of the patient deteriorates – normally with 10-15% burns, you would expect a cure, now many such patients die,” he said.

Other doctors from the hospital said they had seen patients with strange injuries that appeared to have been caused by unusual weapons (there is speculation that this may include Deep Inert Metal Explosive – DIME weapons) and which they did not know how to deal with. Patients who should be getting better were getting worse.

“We had eight amputations on one day – normally, the patients should all have lived, but they all died. We don’t understand it,” one doctor told us. One of the surgeons explained that “when foreign bodies are implanted in a body the surgical advice is not to move them, but now they seem to be fragmenting and causing further damage and the patient goes on bleeding or becomes jaundiced. This is something we do not understand and to cure them we must find out what was used to cause the injuries”.

In the coming days, we will report more about some of the cases in the hospital, including the story of an incident when a mother and her five children were killed and some eight others were wounded.

Posted in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories | 9 Comments

  1. Judith says:

    The use of white phosphorus bombs against civilians is a severe accusation. You would not make it if you had not found solid evidence, i. e. medical records, pictures of the burns etc., would you? So would you mind publishing it?

    Such evidence would be important. Especially as the reports available so far have either confined themselves to quote anonymous medics or show pictures of completely bandaged patients or patients with clearly older, already healing burns. Or they quote Jakob Kellenberger, head of the IKRK, who did not find any evidence for the use of white phosphorus during his visit in Gaza.

  2. Sligahan says:

    Link to an AFP image of Israeli use of white phosphorus on UN school in Beit Lahia 17 January 17 2009.

  3. Judith says:

    What ever caused the fallout in the picture linked above: It looks really nasty, and the purpose of its use over a school should and hopefully will be investigated.

    The use of white phosphorus bombs against civilians looks like this.

    After the fires are over, it looks like this or this or this. If such bombs should have been used against civilians in Gaza, I would expect tens of thousands of dead and wounded with characteristical burns. Indisputable evidence should be found in abundance, and the responsibles should be brought to court. Until then, I prefer cautiousness over incrimination.

  4. Shosh Daned says:

    To Judith: I don’t really care about your preference for “cautiousness over incrimination”. Reports from professionals on the ground, corroborated over aand over again and backed by photographic evidence, will do it for me. To show photos of the firebombing of Dresden in WW2 is a cheap trick. Those of us who feel compassion for Palestinians as the victims of this massacre feel the same historic compassion for the German civilians who were victims of Bomber Harris’s equally disgusting and illegal carnage then. Don’t fall into that form of callous psychosis that Zionism relies on to excuse its barbarism. Let’s look at the damage caused, and why, and fight for real solutions for Palestine/Israel.

  5. Malcolm Bush says:

    I was interested to read about DIME Bombs, Israel has used these before, some time ago, I read about it and downloaded large amounts of technical information and pictures, I’ll dig this stuff out and look though it again.

  6. Judith says:

    To Shosh Daned:
    Reports from professionals on the ground, corroborated over aand over again and backed by photographic evidence, will do it for me.
    They would do it for me too. However, while I have come across plenty of articles claiming that phosphorus bombs were used against civilians in Gaza, other evidence has not been published so far. I find that rather strange. Especially as it would be difficult to miss such evidence, which would not only convince even the most sceptic, but also back up legal actions against the responsibles.

    AI and HRW have made severe allegations. I cannot understand why they do not publish the indisputable evidence they claim to have found. Further refraining from doing so could not only backfire on their sources on the ground; it would also undermine their own credibility. I would regard that as a very bad thing for human right activism.

    To show photos of the firebombing of Dresden in WW2 is a cheap trick.
    Why? They show the effects of white phosphorus bombs on civilian areas.

    Let’s look at the damage caused, and why, and fight for real solutions for Palestine/Israel
    I fully agree with you that we shoud look at the damage and its causes. I also agree that those who seek real solutions for Palestine and Israel deserve our support. Fight, however, has not enhanced such solutions for the last sixty years, so I stick with non-violent means.

  7. Gerri says:

    Judith, you obviously don’t know a thing about criminal investigations do you? Firstly, a fact finding mission is made. That would include photographs, eyewitness accounts, assessments of victim’s injuries, medical records etc. Once any and all investigations are completed and potential criminal charges processed, then and only then may those facts become known to the public and possibly not even then, depending on the laws of the country where the allegations have been made. If you’re still thinking there’s some sort of conspiracy theory as to why there’s no published proof yet, please re-read what I wrote. I work in criminal prosecutions and have first hand knowledge of the steps it takes to get a case to court.

  8. Pingback: On the ground in Gaza | Human Rights Now - Amnesty International USA Blog

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