No Palestinian fatalities but hundreds reported injured in Gaza during continuing demonstrations along the fence with Israel

Mass demonstrations along Israel’s perimeter fence with Gaza took place again today for the sixth consecutive Friday, as part of the ‘Great March of Return’, which is expected to continue up to 15 May. As of 20:00, for the first Friday since the protests began, no Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli forces. Over 1,140 people needed medical attention, including at least 149 children and 78 women, according to the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza. Of the total injuries, 83 resulted from live ammunition. Three of those injured are in a critical condition.

Overall, since the beginning of the protests on 30 March, 40 Palestinians, including five children, have been killed by Israeli forces during the course of the demonstrations. In addition, five Palestinians were killed in Gaza in other circumstances and another five, including one child, were killed after crossing the fence into Israel. Over 7,900 Palestinians, including at least 689 children, have been injured by Israeli forces, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza. Approximately 4,150 people (52 per cent) of the total injuries have been hospitalized, including 2,017 from live ammunition. There have been no reports of Israeli injuries.

The overall number of participants in today’s demonstrations was estimated at 5,000 to 6,000, the lowest number to date. As has occurred on previous Fridays, following midday prayers, hundreds of demonstrators marched from the five tent camps towards the perimeter fence, where they burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli forces, and flew kites with flaming materials attached to them into Israeli territory. Some protestors also entered the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom, Gaza’s sole crossing point for goods, including humanitarian, and set fire to equipment, reportedly including two fuel pipes.

Israeli forces responded to the demonstrations by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, also dropped from drones, and by firing live ammunition, including by snipers. On previous Fridays, the large number of casualties among unarmed demonstrators, in particular the high percentage injured by live ammunition, has raised concerns about excessive use of force, alongside calls for independent investigations of these incidents, including by the UN Secretary-General. The Israeli authorities have stated that many of the fatalities were members of Hamas and other armed groups and have accused the MoH of inflating the number of those wounded by live ammunition. Israel has also stated that a fact-finding mechanism will review the use of force, including incidents of fatal shooting.

On 30 April, the Israeli High Court of Justice heard petitions submitted by two groups of NGOs challenging Israel’s open-fire regulations in the context of the current demonstrations: the case is ongoing. A significant decrease in the use of live ammunition was noted today, with reports of Israeli forces giving verbal warnings via loudspeakers about the impending use of live fire, encouraging protestors to retreat from the fence.

Ongoing humanitarian responses

Humanitarian actors have identified three areas of intervention to respond to the urgent needs arising from the ongoing protests: providing immediate life-saving healthcare; monitoring, verifying and documenting possible protection violations; and scaling up the provision of mental health and psychological support for people injured or otherwise affected. Some US$ 5.3 million has been requested to respond to needs emerging until 31 May 2018; on 25 April, the Humanitarian Coordinator released $2.2 million available in the oPt Humanitarian Fund (HF) reserve for unforeseen emergencies, to support the three areas of intervention.

The health response is the main priority, given the enormous rise in casualties and against the backdrop of the MoH, as well as other health partners in Gaza, warning on 2 April that the health situation is on the verge of collapse amid severe shortage of medicines and medical supplies. To date, $1.8 million has been secured through the HF; $1.8 million has been pledged by ECHO; and a further $1 million by the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF).

A large percentage of patients hospitalized since the start of the demonstrations suffered severe wounds to the lower extremities, requiring complex surgical operations; many of them will have disabilities for life. The MoH, along with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, have established medical trauma stabilization points (TSP) next to the five tent camps, to stabilize injuries before referring them to nearby hospitals.  From 30 March to 28 April, at least 96 health personnel were injured and 16 ambulances damaged, according to data provided by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and the MoH in Gaza. The World Health Organization (WHO), as the cluster lead agency for health, has established the Gaza Trauma Working Group in order to enhance real time coordination of visiting emergency teams, establish minimal standards of clinical practice across the trauma pathway and ensure consistent, accurate data collection and sharing.

The Protection Cluster continues to closely monitor the situation, collecting information relevant to its protection mandate, including for identification of urgent humanitarian needs and ways forward to address possible gaps in response, in coordination with the Health and Education clusters and OCHA.

Protection Cluster partners continue to provide legal aid on behalf of individuals in need of Israel-issued travel permits for urgent treatment outside Gaza.  According to WHO, of the 27 patients injured in the demonstrations from 30 March to 30 April who have applied for Israeli permits to exit Gaza for health care, nine applications were approved (33 per cent), significantly lower than the acceptance rate for such permits overall in the first quarter of 2018 (60 per cent).

The exposure to violence continues to have significant mental health and psychosocial (MHPSS) ramifications, particularly among children. Protection Cluster partners specialized in MPHSS have provided initial psychosocial support to at least 203 traumatized children, affected by different types of injuries, out of at least 599 so far identified. Of them, 28 children with critical and severe injuries (live and rubber bullets) in need of more specialized care were referred for case management. More than one thousand adults in need of MHPSS responses have been also identified and about 342 have been reached with initial psychosocial support.

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

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