Disabled Palestinian Protester Killed in Clashes Was Shot in the Head, Gaza Medical Records Say

Medical report says Ibrahim Abu Thuraya was struck by a bullet above his left eye and died from bleeding in the brain. Israeli army responds: 'Report to be studied in coming days'

Wheelchair-bound Palestinian demonstrator Ibrahim Abu Thuraya gestures during a protest against Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Gaza, December 15, 2017.
MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

Palestinian medical records in the Gaza Strip show that a paraplegic man who died during a violent protest along the border with Israel earlier this month was killed by a bullet that struck him in the head.

The records, obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, shed new light on a case that has become a rallying cry among Palestinians since U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office released a statement in response to the report on Thursday, saying: "The report was received from the media this afternoon and will be studied and examined in the coming days."

Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, who lost his legs in a separate incident several years ago, was killed on December 15 in clashes that broke out along Israel's border with Gaza. Palestinians say Abu Thuraya was shot deliberately by an Israeli sniper — a claim the military denies.

The IDF completed its investigation into Abu Thuraya's death last week, but said it was unable to conclude whether he was killed by Israeli forces or what caused his death. The army added that no live fire was aimed at Abu Thuraya. In conclusion, the report noted that there was “no ethical or professional lapse” in the soldiers’ conduct. 

The medical records obtained by the AP Thursday, which include a hospital report and a death certificate, say that Abu Thuraya, 29, was struck by a bullet above his left eye and died from bleeding in the brain. The same findings were detailed in a report by the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service reviewed by the AP.

The reports did not specify who fired the bullet or what caliber it was.

While the December 15 clash turned violent, with protesters hurling stones, firebombs and burning tires at the border fence, witnesses have said there was no gunfire from the Palestinian side.

The protest came amid a wave of violence that has erupted in the West Bank and Gaza since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. At least 12 people have died so far, almost all in Gaza.

A picture of the 29-year-old Abu Thraya on a wheelchair, raising the Palestinian flag and flashing a “victory” sign, has become ubiquitous in Gaza. He has emerged as a symbol of resistance to Trump’s Jerusalem move, which the Palestinians largely see as siding with Israel.

Alyona Synenko, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the organization has an “ongoing dialogue” with authorities in Israel and Gaza. She said all talks are confidential and that she could not elaborate.

Abu Thuraya was a well-known figure in Gaza.

While relatives have claimed Abu Thuraya lost his legs in an Israeli airstrike while trying to rescue people, AP records show that he was wounded on April 11, 2008, in a clash between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. AP television footage from that day shows Abu Thraya identifying himself as he is taken away on the back of a pickup truck. He is also seen being taken on a stretcher.

Both militants and civilians were wounded and killed that day, and it is not clear whether Abu Thuraya had participated in the violence. Since losing his legs, he often rolled around Gaza City, earning a living by washing cars. He also was a frequent participant in protests along the border with Israel.

Ahmed Yaghi, who was also protesting on December 15, said Abu Thuraya and some others stood about 15 meters (yards) from the border fence, facing soldiers behind a mound of sand. He said he saw a soldier assuming a shooting position and then he heard one gunshot.

“I ran closer and saw Ibrahim bleeding from his forehead. He was on the wheelchair. Some youths pushed him on the chair away and then carried him to the ambulance,” Yaghi said.

Yaghi said that two days before he was killed, Israeli soldiers across the border fence called on Abu Thuraya by name through a loudspeaker, asking him to leave the area. The military enforces a no-go zone next to the fence and warns people against coming too close.

Hamas, which normally praises its fighters killed in battle, has not identified him as a member, nor has any other militant group.