Middle East

'Face of Gaza carnage': Baby mourned as Palestinians bury their dead

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Baby Leila, the eight-month-old girl who reportedly died after inhaling tear gas during the Gaza protests, has focused the world's attention on the deadly clashes.

In her final embrace, Mariam al-Ghandour hugs the tiny body of her daughter Leila tight, tears rolling down her face.

"The Israelis killed her," she sobs.

The health ministry in Gaza say baby Leila, only eight months old, died after inhaling tear gas along the border with Israel on Monday as major protests escalated into the bloodiest day in years, with at least 60 Palestinians killed.

An Israeli spokesman disputed claims that tear gas was the cause of death, saying "we have several accounts that question the validity of this statement".

The family prefers to focus on who fired the gas rather than the series of decisions that led to a baby being a few hundred metres from the Israeli border during the protests and clashes.

The baby's mother Mariam, herself only 17, explained that she had a dentist appointment "so I left Leila with my brothers at home".

"My little brother took her and went to the border," she said.

At the back of the room, 11-year-old Ammar sobs uncontrollably as he looks at the corpse. He says he mistakenly thought his sister was at the border with his mother and other family members.

"So I took her with me on the bus." He added: "I feel I am the reason [for her death]."

Al Jazeera has described Leila as "the face of Gaza carnage". At least eight Palestinians killed in the clashes were aged under 18, with Leila the youngest by far.

While the vast majority of victims were killed by live ammunition fired by Israeli snipers, Leila was reportedly caught up in a cloud of tear gas, only temporarily painful for adults but potentially more dangerous for infants.

The mother of 8-month-old Palestinian infant Laila al-Ghandour cries after her daughter was killed.
The mother of 8-month-old Palestinian infant Laila al-Ghandour cries after her daughter was killed.
NurPhoto

Deadly clashes

Tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied near the border fence on Monday, with smaller numbers seeking to breach it and clashes erupting.

Israeli troops used tear gas and live fire against protesters, as they approached the border fence, wounding almost 3,000 and sparking condemnation from the United Nations (UN).

In fresh clashes on Tuesday, Israeli forces killed two Palestinians, according to local reports.

There have been no reports of Israeli casualties.

Israel defends actions

As thousands farewelled the dead, Israel defended its actions and said it was acting in self-defence against Hamas.

“Every country has an obligation to defend its borders,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

UN General Secretary António Guterres said he was “profoundly alarmed and concerned by the sharp escalation of violence.”

Rupert Colville, the UN human rights spokesperson, told media on Tuesday the level of force used by Israel was unacceptable.

“The mere fact of approaching a fence is not a lethal, life-threatening act, so that does not warrant being shot,” he said.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley walks out of the chamber as Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour begins to speak.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley walks out of the chamber as Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour begins to speak.
Getty Images

The US has been the lone voice of support for Israel. Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, said on Monday the country has acted with “restraint”.

Demonstrations began on Monday after the United States inaugurated its new embassy in Jerusalem, which angered Palestinians who claim East Jerusalem, which contains holy sites important to Jews, Christians and Muslims, as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The UN Security Council on Tuesday began its session with a moment of silence for the dead.

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