GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Gaza Health Ministry spokesman said Wednesday that the death of a 9-month-old girl remains under investigation, two weeks after a medical official cast doubt on initial claims that she died from Israeli tear gas.
A medical report issued on May 14, the day of Layla Ghandour's death, and seen by The Associated Press this week makes no mention of tear gas. The report said she suffered from a congenital heart defect and died after her blood circulation and respiratory system stopped.
When asked about the significance of the report, two doctors offered conflicting views on whether tear gas would have been mentioned if it had been suspected of having contributed to the infant's death. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case with the media.
The infant died on a day of mass protests on the Gaza-Israel border. The march had been one in a series of weekly protests led by Gaza's ruling group, the Islamic militant Hamas, but also driven by despair among the territory's residents about an 11-year-old border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt.
More than 110 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army fire since the anti-blockade protests began in late March, including at least 60 on May 14 when Israeli troops fired live bullets and heavy volleys of tear gas from across the border fence.
The high death toll, particularly that day, has driven international criticism of Israel's use of potentially lethal force against protesters, the vast majority unarmed. Israel has alleged Hamas used the protests as a cover for border attacks.
Layla's relatives claimed she was inadvertently taken to the scene of the protests, due to miscommunication among family members, and that she was near the fence when tear gas fell in the area. They say she was rushed to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.
On May 14, the Health Ministry initially said she died from tear gas fired by Israeli forces. After her funeral the following day, a medical official told the AP that he believed a serious pre-existing medical condition was to blame for the death.
The ministry later said it was referring the case to the forensic medicine department to issue a ruling.
The Justice Ministry, which controls the forensic medicine department, said it ended its investigation and referred the file to Gaza's attorney general. Both authorities have declined to comment.
An official Health Ministry list of those killed in the protests between March 30 and May 19 had 112 names, but the infant was not on the list. The baby's family refused to share hospital reports with the AP, after initially promising to do so.
Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra told reporters in a WhatsApp group on Wednesday that officials are still "waiting for the forensics report" and that in the meantime, the infant's name would be kept off the list of those killed in the protests.