How Israeli shelling of Gaza turned one Palestinian girl’s life into a nightmare

Special How Israeli shelling of Gaza turned one Palestinian girl’s life into a nightmare
Ahed, 17, is among more than 1,000 Gaza children who have lost one or both of their legs since Oct. 7. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 March 2024
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How Israeli shelling of Gaza turned one Palestinian girl’s life into a nightmare

How Israeli shelling of Gaza turned one Palestinian girl’s life into a nightmare
  • Child casualties treated without anesthetic, access to prosthesis or psychological support for life-changing injuries
  • Health system struggling to cope as Israeli restrictions deprive hospitals of power, medics of essential medicines

GAZA: Looking down to discover her right foot was attached by just a few tattered shreds of skin, 17-year-old Ahed, still in a state of shock, asked the cousin who was carrying her to confirm what she already knew. “Is my leg gone?”

A resident of Gaza City, Ahed is among more than 1,000 children in the Palestinian enclave who have lost one or both of their legs since Israel mounted its retaliation for the Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7, according to the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. 

On average, at least 10 children in Gaza lose one or both legs every day.




Gaza officials say many of the 30,500 people killed since Oct. 7 are children. (AFP)

“On Dec. 19, I went to the sixth floor (of our building) to call my father, who has been abroad for six years,” Ahed told Arab News. “I wanted to close the curtain in the kitchen because there was an Israeli tank right outside the window.

“I closed the curtain, sat on the chair, and crossed my legs — only to find myself, within a fraction of a second, face down on the floor, unable to move a muscle.

“The tank hit me.”

Freed from the rubble by her mother and sister, Ahed was carried by a cousin to her uncle, a doctor who lives in the same building. “They placed me on the dining table, where my mom was preparing dough (for bread),” she said.

Short of medical equipment, Ahed’s uncle cleaned the wound as best he could with soap and a sponge used for washing dishes, sutured the arteries with thread to stop the bleeding, and performed the amputation with a kitchen knife.

“There was no numbing agent,” said Ahed. “My anesthetic was the Qur’an. I kept reciting the Quran.”




Young people who are exposed to explosive violence are more likely to sustain life-changing injuries than adults. (AFP)

Many of the operations performed on children in Gaza since the conflict began have taken place without anesthetic, according to the World Health Organization, as the healthcare system in the Palestinian enclave has been left crippled by the fighting.

To keep the wound as clean as possible, Ahed’s family had to boil and reuse her gauze. This continued for four days, as the Israeli siege on the family’s neighborhood prevented her from reaching Gaza’s main hospital, Al-Shifa, which was a mere five-minute drive away.

When she was finally admitted to the small Patients’ Friends Association hospital, approximately 1 km from Al-Shifa, Ahed had to endure further surgeries — again without anesthesia or pain relief.

“I underwent surgery because nothing my uncle used was sterilized, and there was also a serious fracture in my left leg,” she said.




The Israeli in the Gaza Strip as killed 30,000 Palestinians since Oct. 7, 2023. (Reuters)

Many Palestinians have lost limbs that could have been saved under normal circumstances. But owing to a shortage of medical staff, supplies, and fuel to keep hospital generators running, many patients are not seen in time. 

According to the WHO, just 30 percent of Gaza’s medics are still working and 13 out of the enclave’s 36 hospitals remain partially functional. In the south, nine hospitals are operating at three times their intended capacity amid critical shortages of basic supplies and fuel.

“The lack of access to medical resources and the siege of the Gaza Strip have caused shortages of medicine and equipment, leading health facilities to resort to amputations to prevent further infections,” Lise Salavert, humanitarian advocacy manager at Handicap International, told Arab News.

“Children are suffering from intense pain and are prone to more infections due to poor hygiene in shelters. The cold weather and heavy rains in Gaza also expose children with amputations to additional health risks.

INNUMBERS

10 — Children per day, on average, who lost one or both legs since Oct. 7 (Save the Children).

1,000 — Children who have had one or both legs amputated since Oct. 7 (UNICEF).

13 — Hospitals that remain partially functional out of Gaza’s 36 facilities (WHO).

30% — Proportion of Gaza’s pre-conflict medics who are still working (WHO).

“These children require prostheses for mobility and independence, but the shortage of supplies makes it difficult for them to receive personalized prostheses and necessary training. These children will need continuous support until their growth is complete and a regular change or adjustment of their prosthesis.”

According to the humanitarian aid agency Save the Children, young people who are exposed to explosive violence are more likely to sustain life-changing injuries than adults.

“They have weaker necks and torsos, so less force is needed to cause a brain injury,” Jason Lee, Save the Children’s country director for the occupied Palestinian territories, said in a report published earlier this year.

“Their skulls are still not fully formed, and their undeveloped muscles offer less protection, so a blast is more likely to tear apart organs in their abdomen, even when there’s no visible damage.”




opportunities to heal and rehabilitate unavailable to the children of Gaza are being provided by aid agencies abroad. (AFP)

He added: “The killing and maiming of children is condemned as a grave violation against children, and perpetrators must be held to account.”

Of course, not all wounds are visible. The psychological scars inflicted on children caught up in conflict zones cause lasting damage. Yet professional support for these young people is unlikely to be made available, even once the conflict is over.

Salavert of Handicap International warned that “untreated trauma can lead to enduring mental and physical disabilities” and that “the prevalence of mental and physical disabilities in the Gaza Strip is expected to increase significantly as the conflict continues.

“The conflict has also significantly reduced the capacity of existing diagnosis and rehabilitation centers in Gaza due to extensive damage and destruction of civilian infrastructure.”

Elaborating on the mental health toll of the conflict, Salavert added: “Sustaining a life-altering injury at a young age, such as undergoing an amputation while wide awake, can have profound and long-lasting mental health impacts on children. These experiences can lead to feelings of shock, fear, and helplessness, causing immediate trauma.




Sustaining a life-altering injury at a young age can have profound and long-lasting mental health impacts on children, Lise Salavert told Arab News. (AFP)

“Children may experience intense pain and distress during the procedure, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. The loss of a limb can also result in feelings of grief, loss, and lack of sense of identity.

“Furthermore, children may face challenges in adjusting to their new physical capabilities, which can impact their self-esteem and body image. They may also struggle with feelings of isolation and stigma.”

Ahed’s terror was made worse by the fighting that was ongoing around her. While she was recuperating at the Patients’ Friends Association hospital, Israeli forces attacked the district.

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“I was scared of reliving the same experience,” she said. “Every time I heard the sound of a tank, I told my mother to turn me to the right side, which has sustained significant damage, to protect my left side (in case the Israeli forces) bomb us.”

Jeeda Al-Hakim, a specialist counseling psychologist with City University of London, said that after losing an arm or leg, a child experiences “grief and mourning over the loss of their limb.”

She told Arab News: “The initial stages might include confusion, as they may not always understand or fully appreciate the loss of their physical abilities. They might struggle with engaging with some of their previous activities,” which, in response, can cause a range of distressing emotions.

“They may also grieve for the life that they had before the injury.”




Israel is conducting a devastating air and ground campaign in the Gaza Strip. (AFP)

After losing a limb, Al-Hakim said children also experience “emotional withdrawal because they are trying to cope with the violence — they can start to withdraw or not show any emotions towards what is happening, or towards other family members.

“We can see this in some of the imagery when we are looking at what is happening in Gaza.”

She also highlighted that a child might experience “psychosomatic symptoms,” which are “physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches, chest pains, difficulty breathing, and speech impediments, that usually have no biological markers.” 

Emphasizing the importance of having a support network for coping and recovery, Al-Hakim said the loss of family members and care providers further compounds the predicament of Gaza’s children who have sustained life-changing injuries.

UNICEF estimates at least 17,000 children in the Gaza Strip are unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

Moreover, the lack of access to medication “increases the risk of exclusion from communal safe spaces, like shelters, due to stigma or fear of unpredictable behaviors,” said Handicap International’s Salavert.

The lack of basics such as food, water, shelter and sanitation also means it is impossible for Gaza’s children to recover both mentally and physically.

Calling for “a long-lasting ceasefire with massive delivery of humanitarian assistance” into Gaza, Salavert said: “As long as those basic humanitarian needs are not covered and children do not have a feeling of safety, working on mental health issues will be challenging and nearly impossible.”




The lack of basics such as food, water, shelter and sanitation also means it is impossible for Gaza’s children to recover both mentally and physically. (AFP)

She warned that “the impact of these injuries on their future prospects, including education, employment, and overall quality of life, cannot be understated.

“It is crucial for post-war reconstruction efforts to prioritize the needs of these children. Humanitarian aid and support will be essential in addressing these challenges and providing a hopeful future for these children.”

In the meantime, opportunities to heal and rehabilitate unavailable to the children of Gaza are being provided by aid agencies abroad. 

With the help of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a humanitarian organization providing medical relief to children in Palestine, Ahed is today receiving treatment in the US at Shriners Hospitals for Children.


Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral

Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral
Updated 4 sec ago
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Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral

Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral
  • Relations between Egypt and Iran have often been fraught in recent decades although the two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts
DUBAI: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed on Wednesday to Tehran to participate in the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Shoukry’s visit is the first visit by the Egyptian foreign minister to Iran,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said.
Relations between Egypt and Iran have often been fraught in recent decades although the two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts.
Last September, foreign ministers of both countries met during the United Nations leaders gathering in New York and Raisi, who also attended the UN General Assembly, said at the time that the meeting could pave the way for a restoration of ties.
Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who also died in the crash, had met his Egyptian counterpart earlier this month in Gambia on the sidelines of a summit for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The two ministers had discussed efforts to promote bilateral relations and the latest developments in the region, especially the ongoing situation in Gaza.

Iran says used own drones to locate Raisi’s helicopter

Iran says used own drones to locate Raisi’s helicopter
Updated 53 min 38 sec ago
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Iran says used own drones to locate Raisi’s helicopter

Iran says used own drones to locate Raisi’s helicopter
  • A huge search and rescue operation for Raisi’s helicopter involved help from the European Union, Russia and Turkiye
  • Drone dispatched by Turkiye had failed to locate the crash site, Iran says

TEHRAN: The Iranian military said Wednesday that it had used domestically produced drones to locate the helicopter of president Ebrahim Raisi after it crashed in the northwestern mountains.
Raisi’s helicopter came down on a fog-shrouded mountainside on Sunday as it returned to the city of Tabriz from a ceremony on the border with Azerbaijan.
A huge search and rescue operation was launched, involving help from the European Union, Russia and Turkiye before the crash site was located early on Monday.
The Iranian military said that a drone dispatched by Turkiye had failed to locate the crash site “despite having night-vison equipment“
“This drone failed to accurately announce the location of the helicopter crash and finally returned to Turkiye,” the military said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency
“Finally, in the early hours of Monday morning, the exact spot of the helicopter crash was discovered by the ground rescue forces and Iranian drones of the armed forces.”
Armed forces chief Mohammad Bagheri has ordered an investigation into the cause of the crash, which also killed seven members of Raisi’s entourage, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.


Huge crowds in Iran capital for Raisi’s funeral

Huge crowds in Iran capital for Raisi’s funeral
Updated 22 May 2024
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Huge crowds in Iran capital for Raisi’s funeral

Huge crowds in Iran capital for Raisi’s funeral
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leads prayers for those who died in the helicopter crash

TEHRAN: Tens of thousands of Iranians flocked to the streets of Tehran Wednesday to join the funeral processions of president Ebrahim Raisi and his entourage, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

In the center of the city, people holding portraits of Raisi gathered in and around the University of Tehran, where Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is due to lead prayers for Raisi and his companions, including foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Raisi’s helicopter crashed Sunday on a fog-shrouded mountainside in northern Iran on the way to the city of Tabriz after the group attended the inauguration of a dam project on the border with Azerbaijan.

A huge search and rescue operation was launched, involving help from Turkiye, Russia and the European Union. State television announced Raisi’s death early on Monday.

Raisi, who was widely expected to succeed Khamenei as supreme leader, was 63.

In the capital, huge banners have gone up hailing the late president as “the martyr of service,” while others bade “farewell to the servant of the disadvantaged.”

Tehran residents received phone messages urging them to “attend the funeral of the martyr of service.”

The processions, which will be attended by foreign dignitaries, are planned to set off from the university and head to the vast Enghelab Square in the city center, according to state media.

Funeral rites for the late president and his entourage began on Tuesday with tens of thousands of black-clad mourners in attendance in the city of Tabriz and the Shiite clerical center of Qom.

From Tehran, the bodies will be moved to South Khorasan province before being transferred to Raisi’s home city of Mashhad in the northeast, where he will be buried on Thursday evening after funeral rites at the Imam Reza shrine.

Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran, has declared five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until the June 28 election for Raisi’s successor.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri, who was Amir-Abdollahian’s deputy, has been named acting foreign minister.

The country’s armed forces chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri has ordered an investigation into the cause of the helicopter crash.

Raisi was elected president in 2021, succeeding the moderate Hassan Rouhani at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear activities.

The ultra-conservative’s time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.

After his death, global allies Russia and China and regional powers voiced their condolences, as did NATO, while the UN Security Council observed a minute of silence.

Messages of condolence also flooded in from Iran’s allies around the region, including Syria, Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, both of which are backed by Tehran.


UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve

UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve
Updated 22 May 2024
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UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve

UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve
  • The UN food agency is now reevaluating logistics and security measures and looking for alternate routes within Gaza

WASHINGTON: The UN World Food Program said Tuesday the new US $320 million pier project for delivering aid to Gaza may fail unless Israel starts ensuring the conditions the humanitarian groups need to operate safely. The operation was halted for at least two days after crowds looted aid trucks coming from the port and one Palestinian man was killed.
Deliveries were stopped Sunday and Monday after the majority of the trucks in an aid convoy Saturday were stripped of all their goods on the way to a warehouse in central Gaza, the WFP said. The first aid transported by sea had entered the besieged enclave on Friday.
The Pentagon said movement of aid from the secured area at the port resumed Tuesday, but the UN said it was not aware of any deliveries on Tuesday.
The UN food agency is now reevaluating logistics and security measures and looking for alternate routes within Gaza, said spokesperson Abeer Etefa. The WFP is working with the US Agency for International Development to coordinate the deliveries.
Only five of the 16 aid trucks that left the secured area on Saturday arrived at the intended warehouse with their cargo intact, another WFP spokesperson, Steve Taravela, told The Associated Press. He said the other 11 trucks were waylaid by what became a crowd of people and arrived without their cargo.
“Without sufficient supplies entering Gaza, these issues will continue to surface. Community acceptance and trust that this is not a one-off event are essential for this operation’s success,” Taravela said in an email. “We have raised this issue with the relevant parties and reiterated our request for alternative roads to facilitate aid delivery. Unless we receive the necessary clearance and coordination to use additional routes, this operation may not be successful.”
The WFP also said Tuesday it has suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah due to a lack of supplies and insecurity.
President Joe Biden ordered the US military’s construction of the floating pier for deliveries of food and other vital supplies. Israeli restrictions on shipments through land borders and overall fighting have put all 2.3 million residents of Gaza in a severe food crisis since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, and US and UN officials say famine has taken hold in the north of Gaza.
Authorities have offered limited details of what transpired with Saturday’s aid convoy. However, Associated Press video shows Israeli armored vehicles on a beach road, then aid trucks moving down the road. Civilians watching from the roadside gradually start to clamber on top of the aid trucks, throwing aid down to people below. Numbers of people then appear to overrun the aid trucks and their goods.
At one point, people are shown carting a motionless man with a chest wound through the crowd. A local morgue later confirmed to the AP the man had been killed by a rifle shot. At another point, shots crackled, and some of the men in the crowd are shown apparently ducking behind aid boxes for cover.
It was not clear who fired the shots. The Israeli military is responsible for security for the aid when it reaches the shore. Once it leaves the secure area at the port, aid groups follow their own security protocols.
Asked about the shooting, the Israeli army told the AP, using the acronym for the Israel Defense Forces: “The IDF is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that the aid convoys do not travel with armed security. He said the best security comes from engagement with various community groups and humanitarian partners so people understand that there will be a constant flow of aid. “That is not possible in an active combat zone,” Dujarric said.
The Pentagon press secretary, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, said that as of Tuesday 569 metric tons of aid has been delivered to the secured area at the Gaza port. Some of it remains there, however, because distribution agencies are working to find alternative routes to warehouses in Gaza.
Asked if any aid from the pier had yet reached Gaza residents in need, Ryder said, “I do not believe so.” He said aid had resumed moving Tuesday from the secured area into Gaza, after what had been a two-day halt following Saturday’s disruption. He gave no immediate details.
Etefa, the WFP spokesperson in Cairo, said she knew of no deliveries from the shore on Tuesday, however.
Biden announced the US mission to open a new sea route for humanitarian goods during his State of the Union address in March, as pressure built on the administration over civilian deaths in Gaza.
The war began in October after a Hamas-led attack killed about 1,200 people in Israel. Israeli airstrikes and fighting have killed more than 35,000 Palestinians since then, Gaza health officials say.
Many international humanitarian organizations were critical of the US project, saying that while any aid was welcome, surging food through the land crossings was the only way to curb the growing starvation. Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official now leading the Refugees International humanitarian organization, called the pier operation “humanitarian theater” and said it was being done for political effect.
The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. The crisis in humanitarian supplies has spiraled in the two weeks since Israel began an incursion into Rafah on May 6, vowing to root out Hamas fighters. Troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which has been closed since.
Since May 10, only about three dozen trucks have made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting makes it difficult for aid workers to reach it, the UN says.
Taravela said little aid or fuel — needed to run aid delivery trucks — is currently reaching any part of Gaza, and stocks of both are almost exhausted.
“The bottom line is that humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” he wrote.


The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash

The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash
Updated 22 May 2024
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The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash

The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash
  • It still has around 40 F-14 Tomcat fighter jets, which became famous in the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun” in the 1980s and have been used by the US Air Force itself for two decades

PARIS: The helicopter in the crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was a US-made Bell 212, a model introduced in 1968 during the Vietnam War and last produced in 1998.
Here is what we know about the Bell 212:

Brought into service in 1971, the civilian helicopter had a military version known as Twin Huey, which was used by US troops during the Vietnam conflict.
One of its variants, the Huey UH-1 Iroquois, gained notoriety in an iconic scene in the film “Apocalypse Now” during which US troops play Richard Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries on loudspeakers during a raid on a Vietnamese village.
The Bell 212 can carry 13 passengers plus two pilots and fly at more than 250 kilometers (156 miles) per hour, with a range of more than 400 kilometers.
It features a two-blade propeller and is equipped with two Pratt and Whitney engines of 900 horsepower each.
The helicopter was first manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas, before production moved to Mirabel, outside Montreal, from 1988 until 1998, the last year it wast built. It was also made under license in Italy by Agusta.
As of last year, 704 Bell 212 or Bell 412 — its four-blade version — were still in service among armed forces, including in Angola, Argentina, Morocco, Turkiye and Zambia, according to the most recent annual report of industry publication FlightGlobal.

As of 2023, Iran operated 10 Bell 212 helicopters — two used by the air force and the remainder by the navy, according to FlightGlobal.
Tehran was an important client for the American civilian and military aircraft industry under the shah of Iran, a close US ally, until his ouster by the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Iran has sought to keep its aging fleet in the air despite US sanctions that have it made very difficult for Tehran to obtain spare parts.
It still has around 40 F-14 Tomcat fighter jets, which became famous in the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun” in the 1980s and have been used by the US Air Force itself for two decades.
Iran also has a number of F5 fighters, purchased from the United States four decades ago and which first came into service 60 years ago.

The Bell company, which was founded in 1935 and became a subsidiary of industrial group Textron in 1960, still produces helicopters.
The firm prides itself on having been the first to certify a helicopter intended for civilian use, in 1946.
A year later it was an experimental Bell X-1 aircraft that Chuck Yeager piloted as he became the first man to surpass the speed of sound in 1947.