April 8, 2019 / 2:50 PM / 4 days ago

Artificial limbs change lives for wounded Gaza protesters

GAZA (Reuters) - Walking up and down stairs at a Gaza medical center, Palestinian amputees are learning to use their new artificial limbs after being wounded by Israeli fire at border protests.

The Health Ministry in the Hamas Islamist-run territory said 136 wounded Palestinians have undergone amputations since the demonstrations began in March 2018.

“It was only one bullet, one bullet turned my life upside down,” said Abdallah Qassem, 17, struggling to stand steady while trying on his new artificial legs.

Qassem said the bullet struck one leg and then penetrated the other as he sat on the ground with friends at a rally on May 14, the day the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, fuelling Palestinian anger.

“I had dreamt of becoming a photojournalist but I aim to study computer science,” he told Reuters.

The Gaza Artificial Limb and Polio Center is run by the Gaza municipality. On its first floor, technicians were producing limbs with material from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Protesters at the demonstrations are demanding the end to a security blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, and want Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to leave during Israel’s founding in 1948.

A combination picture shows Palestinians who, according to medics, lost their legs after being shot by Israeli forces during protests at the Israel-Gaza border, posing for photos in Gaza March 13 and 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Around 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops so far in the protests, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures. An Israeli soldier was also killed by a Palestinian sniper in July.

U.N. investigators say Israel has used excessive force. Israel says it has no choice but to use deadly force to protect the border from militants and infiltrators.

In the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, Suhaib Qudeih and his sister Nazeeha each lost a leg to Israeli gunfire.

“Before the injury, I used to work and make 4,000 shekels ($1,100 a month). I used to bring the sweetest food to my children. Now I can’t get them most of what they ask for,” the 33-year-old man told Reuters.

He needs more surgery to make sure an artificial right leg can fit well. His sister has already had her artificial limb fitted.

The World Health Organization said 6,872 Gazans suffered gunshot wounds, mostly to the limbs, in the past year of protests.

With funding from the European Union, the WHO is helping Palestinians set up a limb reconstruction unit in Nasser hospital in southern Gaza. It is expected to open as early as next month.

Slideshow (23 Images)

“This center is focused around restoring people’s lives, preventing amputations, and making sure that they are able to move again,” Sara Halimah, WHO trauma manager, said.

Halimah said each of the patients will need up to two years of treatment.

“If this center is not established and if we don’t have the correct treatment centers for controlling the infection rates, then we will see this amputation rate go through the roof, it will skyrocket,” Halimah told Reuters at Nasser hospital.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Alison Williams

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