Israel says Gaza baby’s family paid to blame army for death

The mother of Leila al-Ghandour (C) weeps as she holds the body of her eight-month-old baby who according to her family died of inhaling tear gas fired by the Israeli army during protests on the Gaza-Israel border

Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel said Thursday it has evidence the family of a baby who died near the Gaza border was paid by Hamas to accuse Israel’s army over her death, an account the family rejected.

Gaza’s health ministry and family members said eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour had died after inhaling tear gas along the border during a day of clashes in May, in which at least 61 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire.

The Israeli army disputed the claim, calling it a fabrication by Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the coastal enclave.

The army said she had a pre-existing medical condition, citing an unnamed doctor with access to her file.

The justice department on Thursday published the charge sheet of Mahmud Omar, a 20-year-old Gazan identified as the girl’s cousin who was arrested in May for attempting to infiltrate Israel.

It said the detainee had told Israeli interrogators that Leila’s parents had been paid 8,000 shekels ($2,200 or 1,900 euros) by Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, in exchange for claiming the girl had died of gas inhalation.

Leila’s parents, contacted by AFP, denied the claims, reaffirmed their daughter had died of tear gas inhalation, and said she had not been sick.

Major protests in Gaza have seen dozens of Palestinians killed.

Leila’s family said she had been taken near the border by an 11-year-old relative who mistakenly thought the baby’s mother was there.

Tensions have soared in Gaza since mass protests and clashes broke out along the border on March 30. At least 133 Palestinians have been killed. There have been no Israeli fatalities.

While the Gaza health ministry originally said the baby had died after inhaling tear gas, she was not included a list ministry the ministry later published of Palestinians killed by the Israel army.

The health ministry said Thursday a full review of her death was still underway.