Decline in Palestinian casualties during demonstrations in the Gaza Strip near the perimeter fence

OCHA Flash update

As of 19:00 today, 13 April, one Palestinian has been killed and 969, including 67 children, have been injured by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, according to the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza. The MoH also indicated that of the total injuries, nearly one quarter (223 people) were hit by live ammunition, including 15 people currently in a critical condition.

The casualties were recorded in the context of the ‘Great March of Return’, a series of protests that started on 30 March, and are expected to continue up to 15 May. The number of casualties recorded in today’s events represents a decline compared to the figures recorded during the previous two Fridays, along with a decline in the total number of demonstrators. Since the beginning of the protests, 33 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, of them 27 during the course of the protests and six in other circumstances. The number of injuries has exceeded 4,000, according to the MoH. No Israeli casualties have been reported. The Israeli authorities have stated that many of the fatalities were members of Hamas and other armed groups, and accused the MoH of inflating the number of wounded by live ammunition.

Gaza’s health sector continues to struggle to deal with the mass influx of casualties, despite the support provided by aid agencies during the past two weeks. Following last Friday’s demonstrations, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that 59 types of essential drugs, 128 medical disposables and 5 laboratory reagents, were urgently needed at public hospitals for the treatment of injuries. Today, the MoH added that there is a shortage of specialized medical professionals, particularly surgeons, anesthetists, and forensic pathologists. The Health Cluster, in coordination with partners, is monitoring the situation and providing support, including delivery of drugs and disposables.

The Israeli authorities have stated that, as a matter of principle, they would not allow people who participated in the protests to exit Gaza in order to receive medical treatment in hospitals in the West Bank or Israel. This statement was submitted to the Israeli Supreme Court, in response to a petition by two injured Palestinians, who were denied passage to a Ramallah hospital, reportedly leading to the amputation of limbs. The Court requested the authorities to review their position and submit a new response by Sunday, 15 April. 

Medical services in Gaza have been undermined in recent years due to the longstanding blockade, internal divide, funding shortages and a chronic energy crisis. Yesterday, 12 April, Gaza’s sole power plant was forced to shut down after being unable to replenish its fuel reserves, triggering outages lasting 20 hours per day, up from 18 hours previously. The UN, under the coordination of OCHA, continues to provide a number of critical health facilities in the Gaza Strip, including public hospitals, with emergency fuel to run back-up generators.

The Israeli-controlled Gaza crossings are closed until Sunday, 15 April, except for urgent humanitarian cases, while the Egyptian controlled crossing, Rafah, exceptionally opened today until tomorrow evening. 

Today’s demonstrations took place at five tent camps located about 700 metres distance from the fence with Israel. Despite calls to avoid confrontations, a few hundred demonstrators approached the fence, where they burned tires, threw rocks and, according to Israeli sources, explosive devices and fire bombs at Israeli forces. They also dismantled a number of barbed wire fences deployed at about 20 metres from the perimeter fence by the Israeli military, and attempted to breach the latter. Israeli forces responded by firing live ammunition, including by snipers, rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, also dropped from drones.

On 6 April, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that “given the large number of injuries and deaths, the ominous statements made by Israeli authorities in the days leading up to the protest, as well as indications that the individuals killed or wounded were unarmed or did not pose a serious threat to well-protected security forces – and in some cases were actually running away from the fence – there are strong indications that security forces used excessive force”. In today’s briefing to the Security Council, the UN Secretary-General reiterated his deep concern about the clashes and casualties, and called for an independent and transparent investigation into the incident. The Israeli army has already announced that it will hold its own internal investigation.

Disclaimer: Data and analysis provided in this Flash Update is based on preliminary information available. Further assessments are pending.