Saturday 24 January 2009

Amnesty International Calls on Israel to Urgently Disclose Weapons and Munitions Used in Gaza

Doctors Are Having Difficulty Treating Wounded with Unexplained Charred and Severed Limbs

Amnesty International Press Release


15 year-old Ayman al-Najar at the Al-Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. He has severe injuries, including chemical burns, after Israeli bombing in the village of Khoza'a, Gaza.

(New York) -- Saying doctors are finding new and unexplained patterns of injury among the wounded in Gaza, Amnesty International today called on the Israeli authorities to urgently disclose all weapons and munitions their forces used during military operations to prevent the loss of more lives.

"It is vital and urgent that the Israeli authorities disclose all relevant information including what weapons and munitions they used," said Donatella Rovera, who is leading Amnesty International's investigations team in Gaza. "More lives must not be lost because doctors do not know what caused their patients' injuries and what medical complications may occur. They have to be fully informed so that they can provide life-saving care."

Rovera said doctors are telling Amnesty International they are encountering new and unexplained patterns of injury among some of the Palestinians injured. "Some victims of Israeli air strikes were brought in with charred and sharply severed limbs and doctors treating them need to know what weapons were used," she said.

Dr. Subhi Skeik, head of the Surgical Department at al-Shifa Hospital, told Amnesty International delegates: “We have many cases of amputations and vascular reconstructions where patients would be expected to recover in the normal way. But to our surprise many of them died an hour or two after operation. It is dramatic.”

Rovera said the human rights organization has irrefutable evidence of the use of white phosphorous munitions in civilian areas, although the Israeli authorities previously denied using this munition.

Israel's earlier refusal to confirm that its troops had used white phosphorus meant that doctors were unable to provide correct treatment. White phosphorous particles embedded in the flesh can continue to burn, causing intense pain as the burns grow wider and deeper, and can result in irreparable damage to internal organs. It can contaminate other parts of the patient's body or even those treating the injuries.

“We noticed burns different from anything we had ever dealt with before,” one burns specialist at Gaza's al-Shifa Hospital told Amnesty International. “After some hours the burns became wider and deeper, gave off an offensive odor and then they began to smoke.”

The condition of people with burns caused by white phosphorus can deteriorate rapidly. Even those with burns that cover a relatively small area of the body – ten to fifteen percent – who would normally survive, can deteriorate and die. Only after a number of foreign doctors arrived in the Gaza Strip, days after they had seen the first casualties of white phosphorus, did local doctors learn what had caused the wounds and how to treat them.

A 16-year-old girl, Samia Salman Al-Manay'a, was asleep in her home in the Jabalia refugee camp, north of Gaza City, when a phosphorous shell landed on the first floor of the house on Jan. 10. Ten days later, from her hospital bed, she told Amnesty International that she was still experiencing intense pain due to the burns to her face and legs. “The pain is piercing. It's as though a fire is burning in my body. It's too much for me to bear. In spite of all the medicine they are giving me the pain is still so strong.”

Without knowing what they were, Palestinians whose houses were hit by phosphorous shells or burning debris from them, mistakenly threw water on the flames, only for the fire to intensify. When doctors, seemingly unaware, tried to wash patients' wounds with saline solutions, they screamed in pain. And when they changed the dressings on patients' burns they were shocked to see smoke rise from the wound. When they conducted investigative operations, they extracted small pieces of felt which started to burn immediately when they were exposed to the air.

“There can be no excuse for continuing to withhold information vital to effective treatment of people wounded in Israeli attacks. Lack of cooperation by Israel is leading to needless deaths and unnecessary suffering," said Rovera. "The Israeli authorities should fulfil their obligation to ensure prompt and adequate care for the wounded by making a full disclosure of the weapons and munitions they used in Gaza and provide any other relevant information that may help medical teams."


Some 1,300 Palestinians were killed between Dec. 27, 2008 and the ceasefire declared by Israel on Jan. 18, 2009, including more than 400 children and over 100 women. More than 5,300 Palestinians were injured; many will be disabled for the rest of their lives. In the same period, 13 Israelis were killed in attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, including three civilians.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Photos of Ayman al-Najar injuries.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150,

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