On 7 July 2006, Gulf News reported a claim by Dr. Al Saqqa, Head of the Emergency Unit of El Shifa Hospital, Gaza that the Israeli Occupation Force was using a new ‘chemical’ weapon. He has worked at El Shifa for ten years. He had noted that two hundred and more casualties of Operation Summer Rain (sic) had unusual wounds. These numbers included about fifty children. Later evidence from Dr. Al Saqqa described surface wounds as having the general appearance of those due to ‘shrapnel’ - fragments from shell, missile or bomb casings - but no fragments were to be seen on x-ray. There were usually entry and exit wounds. When the wounds were explored no foreign material was found. There was tissue death, the extent of which was difficult to determine. It is vital, especially with deep wounds, to excise all dead tissue. A higher deep infection rate resulted with subsequent amputation. In spite of amputation there was a higher mortality.
Dr. Al Saqqa had called for international help from the overseas medical fraternity but he angrily noted that it had not ‘lifted a finger’. The doctors and scientists in Gaza were hamstrung in investigating their concerns because the one laboratory had been blown up in the invasions which followed the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit by guerillas. Furthermore, the staff and hospitals had been working under terrible pressure since a siege had been laid on Gaza by twenty-nine nations in March. All manner of medical supplies, including anaesthetic agents, were in short supply. Then followed a sharp increase in casualties. The doctors were advised to document the likely causative weapon, eyewitness accounts of the explosion, smoke seen, etc. Of course, they were asked to keep similarly careful records of each casualty. Tissue samples would be kept in formalin if that was available. It was fully acknowledged all this would be very difficult for them.
Inquiries were made of weapon experts as to what was the most likely weapon. It was strongly suggested by one that the weapon was a Hellfire missile of thermobaric design. The Hellfire comes in four types. It had been observed in Gaza that the blast from the weapon was stronger. This would fit with this weapon, which was developed for killing humans in and around buildings - of killing round corners. If it has been used in Gaza, it must surely have been used in Fallujah, Haditha and elsewhere. Evidence from there should be made available.
An alternative explanation is provided by this addition to UrukNet on 10 August 2006. A strong stomach is required in reading about these many weapons developed in the US. One of several ‘sensor fused’ submunitions carried within a missile (formerly CBU-97) will project near molten copper at its target. The velocity is such that when the mass fragments, these will pass clean through the human body - obviously depending on distance travelled. The heat in them would certainly explain the widespread and deep tissue death. A version was used to ‘great effect’ in ”Operation Iraqi Freedom”. It should be straightforward to confirm the use of this weapon given the identity of the metal.
Surgeons in Lebanon have also claimed that new and more injurious weapons have been used. Like their colleagues in Gaza, they are sadly familiar with the effects of modern weaponry on the human body and they are also working in extremely difficult conditions. Substance is given to these claims by a press guidelines issued by the Chief Israeli Military Censor, Colonel Sima Vaknin-Gil on 23 July. Under ‘General Guidelines’ paragraph 6 he says: ”There is a special emphasis on matters regarding the activity of special forces and the use of unique kinds of ammunition and weaponry.”
The director of Nabatiyeh National Hospital in the south, Dr Hassan Wazni, has been quoted as speaking about “vacuum bombs”. ‘They vacuum the air out of the body and that stops the breathing and thus the heart stops operating.’ He also speaks about one ‘death’ case, that of Sadek Hamed (12) whose cause of death is still unknown (medically).
Dr. Bashir Sham, member of “French Association of Cardiovascular Surgeons”, explains that the way the corpses look when they reach the hospital, especially those from the ‘air strikes’ in Doueir and Rmayleih, is very abnormal. “One might think they were burnt, but their colour is dark, they’re inflated, and they have a terrible smell. All this, and the hair is not burnt nor do the bodies bleed.’ Several doctors have claimed that white phosphorus has been used in the south of the Lebanon. They have no doubts. Certainly cluster shells have been used.
The claims of these very hard pressed doctors require proper investigation in their own right. Respect for the injured and the dead is the dominant reason. The number and variety of lethal weapons expands daily. It would be perverse on these grounds alone if there was no international assessment of these claims. The WHO is said to have been handed samples in the Lebanon. If they are pursuing these avenues, so well and good. It is being reported that the new UN Human Rights Council is to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes at the request of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. The weapons used are part of its remit. If not, fully qualified experts are asked to volunteer to hear the surgeons in Gaza and the Lebanon, and to examine all the evidence very carefully.
David Halpin is a retired orthopaedic and trauma surgeon. He chartered the Voyage of the Dove and the Dolphin in 2003. The MV Barbara, a chartered Danish vessel, traveled from Torquay in the UK to Ashdod with 50 tons of first grade flour, milk powder, cooking oil, olive oil, honey and cheese destined for the poorest families in Gaza. The voyage was a symbolic protest against the long continued and grotesque injustices being done to the Palestinian people, and against the massive assault on Iraq which was only 6 weeks away. He has since visited Palestine four more times.