Horrific injuries reported among Gaza protesters

As the Great March of Return protests continues on its fourth Friday, medical workers in Gaza are reporting horrific, life-changing injuries to Palestinian demonstrators caused by Israeli forces.

Today, Friday 20 April, four Palestinians have been killed and 729 injured as Israeli forces continued to use live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets against unarmed protesters. Gaza’s health sector – which according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) was already “on the brink of collapse” before the current protests began– continues to struggle to respond to the influx of mass casualties to field clinics and hospitals. The WHO reported this week that 75 essential drugs and 190 medical disposables need immediate replenishing.

According to data from the Ministry of Health in Gaza, in the first two weeks of the protests (30 March – 14 April), 4,279 people were injured, and 36% of these (1,539) received gunshot wounds. The majority of these wounds are to legs.

Medics in hospitals in Gaza have reported to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) the very serious nature of some of these wounds. One surgeon told MAP: “The bullets used are causing injuries local medics say they have not seen since 2014. The entrance wound is small. The exit wound is devastating, causing gross comminution of bone and destruction of soft tissue.”

The same surgeon emphasised that many of these injuries are life-changing and will cause permanent disability: “Long-term we are preparing for years and years of reconstructive work for poor outcome limbs. The risks are both acute (sepsis, gangrene, disseminated intravascular coagulation) as well as long-term (osteomyelitis, very poor functional outcome, delayed amputation).”

So far surgeons in Gaza have been forced to perform 17 amputations (to 13 legs and 4 arms), when limbs have been damaged beyond ability or resources to repair.

Aimee Shalan, MAP’s CEO, said: “Many of the wounded will be living with the consequences of these shocking injuries for the rest of their lives. MAP is doing all it can to ensure that medics in Gaza are able to provide the best possible care, both now and in the years of treatment and rehabilitation which are to come. At the same time, the world must insist that use of force which has permanently changed so many lives already be credibly investigated and accountability sought.”

Concerns over the types of injuries being inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza have been echoed by other international medical groups. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in Gaza have noted that injuries are “of an unusual severity” and include “an extreme level of destruction to bones and soft tissue, and large exit wounds that can be the size of a fist.”

MAP is responding directly to the very high number of complex limb injuries in Gaza. Our team there have released shipments of essential medicines needed to treat the wounded, as well as equipment to the Limb Reconstruction Unit at Al Shifa Hospital, established with the support of MAP and our partner IDEALS in response to needs arising from Israel’s 2014 military offensive on Gaza. Our support to Gaza’s health sector will continue in the coming days and weeks, and will include additional emergency supplies including medicines for treating severe bone infections and external fixators for badly-injured limbs.

Meanwhile, international calls for independent investigation into Israel’s use of force against unarmed protesters and accountability for violations of international law have continued to grow. On Thursday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Gaza “support[ing] the calls for independent and transparent investigations into these violent events” while “recall[ing] the importance of accountability and that the intentional use of lethal force against protesters who do not pose an imminent threat to life or serious injury violates international human rights law and in the context of occupation is a serious breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

MAP endorses such calls for independent investigation and accountability as essential to ending repeated violent abuses against Palestinian protesters exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression, and demanding the realisation of their internationally-recognised right to return.

MAP repeats its call to the UK Government and the international community to support accountability, and take action to ensure stringent adherence to international law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including an end to Israel’s unlawful blockade and closure of Gaza.

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