Focus: Israel and the Palestinians.
|Children are among those said to have been
injured by new weapons
Zuhair Najar has emerged from a three-month-long coma a fragmented human being. His left leg has been amputated, one testicle removed, and he is now mentally disabled.
The 30-year-old Palestinian was struck by an explosive fired from an Israeli drone while in the doorway of his home in Meghazi refugee camp in central Gaza in July.
Three large pieces of burnt shrapnel were removed from his chest, despite only one appearing under X-ray.
Smaller pieces were removed from his entire body, although black splinters remain embedded in his skin.
Doctors at As-Shiffa, Gaza’s primary hospital, tried to suture his wounded leg after the attack, but infection from the shrapnel spread rapidly and his leg had to be amputated.
Dr Mohammed Sana’a Allah, at El-Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital, said: “We used to treat patients recovering from gunshot wounds, now we treat massive burns and amputations.”
Hospital directors and security officials across the Gaza Strip are reporting devastating injuries to civilians, most commonly amputated limbs and serious burns.
They claim that Israel is using new, unconventional weapons against Gaza’s population.
An investigative report aired on Italian Rai News 24 in October presented evidence that Israel is using an experimental weapon in Gaza in recent months that shares the characteristics of Dense Inert Metal Explosive (Dime), developed by the US military. It is a carbon shell that splinters upon impact.
Its explosion emits a blast of tungsten gas, a heavy metallic element charged with heat that burns and destroys everything within a four-metre radius, according to the military magazine Defense Tech.
The weapon is too new to have been banned under international law.
Samples from victims’ bodies were sent to a team of 15 Italian scientists from leading Italian universities.
Maurizio Torrealta, who produced the documentary, said there were two indicators of Dime weapons.
The first was that victims had been sprayed with small fragments of hot shrapnel invisible under X-ray. The second was the presence of a hot metal powder, which has caused more than 79 victims to have either or both legs amputated.
Where the limb was cut the blood vessels were closed, making it appear to be an old wound, even though it was fresh, doctors reported.
“Dime is still in the research stage and isn’t in the field,” according to a US army captain who specialises in international law, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is clearly possible they [Israel] could be using Dime.”
However, he said the Israelis may have developed their own version of the weapon.
Under international law, Israel is not obliged to disclose the type of weapons it uses. It is, however, not allowed to use any weapon that causes unnecessary suffering.
|Doctors remain convinced that unconventional
weapons are being used, despite denials
“Using a weapon that creates unusually difficult wounds to treat – glass shrapnel that won’t appear on X-rays being the classic example – would be a violation of international law, and things that cause amputations rather than just disabling someone, that is also a problem, both of those are serious red flags,” the captain said.
An Israeli army spokesperson, Major Avital Leibovitz, said: “We don’t have any secret weapon, and all ammunition we are using is under international law.
“Israel did not receive any formal complaint with names, places, dates, this was only in the media.”
Despite Israeli denials, Palestinian medics remain convinced that Israel is using some kind of unconventional weapon.
Juma As-Saqa, a surgeon and public relations director at As-Shiffa hospital, said: “The victims arrive to As-Shiffa hospital severely cut and fragmented, with severely burnt skin and underlying tissue melted.”
The number of amputees, some completely disfigured, is rising, he said.
“We have to amputate limbs because such burns cause severe infections that spread throughout the body and cause multi-organ failure.”
As-Shiffa lacks the resources to cope with such trauma.
Most of the victims were attacked in July and the first two weeks of August with munitions fired from drones, concentrated in Gaza City, Beit Layhia, and Meghazi.
According to As-Saqa, the number of dead reached 260 and more than 1,000 were injured during this period.
Victims were commonly injured form the waist down, particularly in the genital area, which Torrealata says is consistent with injuries caused by Dime weapons, part of a new range of so-called “low-lethality” weapons designed to injure rather than kill.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivered enough “war surgery kits” to treat 600 patients in July, including bone-cutters for the increased number of amputees.
The victims are “sprayed with hundreds of shrapnel [pieces]” said As-Saqa. He said that since June 25 he has treated scores of victims wounded by shrapnel that did not show up under X-ray.
Dr Bassem Na’eem, the Palestinian Authority health minister, says that an illegal weapon has been employed against the Gaza population.
He said: “We see hundreds of inlets and when we X-ray the patients there is no evidence of bullets or shrapnel.”
He said his ministry lacks the expertise to investigate properly, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Jerusalem says initial tests could be performed. It also said that conducting an official investigation without a formal request from the health ministry was not in its mandate.
Such a request was never sent, according to Khaled Radey from the health ministry.
Dr John Dugard, who was to have led a UN investigative team into the unusual injuries, said: “The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on July 6 to lead a fact-finding mission to the region, including Gaza, however, the Israeli government did not consent.”
|Israel’s lengthy incursion into the
Gaza Strip continues
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human, Rights Louise Arbour, will visit the region this month.
Physicians for Human Rights in Israel took samples from victims but the group is having difficulty finding a lab willing to perform tests.
Shabtai Gold, a spokesman, said that the group was “calling on the [Israeli] defence ministry to reveal what weapons were used to better treat the patients, and to see if [they] comply with international law”.
The ICRC is also conducting an investigation, but will not make its results public.
In his recent article “The Military Battle against Terrorism: Direct Contact v Standoff Warfare,” Gabriel Siboni, an Israeli army colonel and military researcher at the Jaffe Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University wrote about the growing popularity of “standoff warfare – fighting that is conducted by striking at terrorist elements with a massive exercising of remotely operated technological devices”.
Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in September last year, the use of tele-guided weaponry launched from drones has become common.
“There may be many cases where standoff warfare will be the primary operational alternative (for example, post-disengagement Gaza or Lebanon),” he wrote.
Yuval Shani, an international law lecturer at Hebrew University, said: “The Israeli position post disengagement is that Gaza is no longer occupied territory; if this is true, Israel has greater latitude under international law of war.
“There was no use of artillery [in Gaza] pre-disengagement.”
An investigation by a European Union committee suggested that Israel used experimental uranium-based weapons during this summer’s war in Lebanon, according to the British newspaper The Independent.
The United Nations Environment Programme is investigating allegations and will publish its results next month.
Israel continues its incursion into Gaza, which it says is to stop rockets being fired into Israel and to secure the recovery of an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian fighters on June 25.