'I want my legs back': The child amputees of Gaza's war

Due to the massive number of casualties and dwindling resources, medics are often left with no choice but to amputate limbs to prevent life-threatening complications

By AFP

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Thirteen year-old amputee Layan al-Baz receives treatment at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 31, 2023. Photo: AFP
Thirteen year-old amputee Layan al-Baz receives treatment at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 31, 2023. Photo: AFP

Published: Wed 8 Nov 2023, 8:50 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Nov 2023, 9:24 AM

Layan al-Baz cries in agony when the effect fades of the painkillers she receives after her legs were amputated -- the result of a strike on Gaza as Israel fights Hamas.

"I don't want a false leg," the 13-year-old Palestinian tells AFP in Khan Yunis's Nasser hospital, in the southern Gaza Strip, where getting artificial limbs was nearly impossible anyway.

The impoverished Palestinian territory, under a crippling Israeli-led blockade for years and besieged since war erupted on October 7, suffers severe shortages of food, water and fuel, and medical supplies are scarce.

"I want them to put my legs back, they can do it," Baz says in desperation from her bed at Nasser's paediatric ward. Every time she opens her eyes as the painkillers wear off, she sees her bandaged stumps.

Layan was wounded a weak earlier in a strike on Al-Qarara district of Khan Yunis. Photo: AFP
Layan was wounded a weak earlier in a strike on Al-Qarara district of Khan Yunis. Photo: AFP

Her mother, Lamia al-Baz, 47, says Layan was wounded last week in a strike on Al-Qarara district of Khan Yunis, part of Israel's unrelenting military campaign in response to bloody Hamas attacks on October 7 that Israeli officials say killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry, 10,328 people have been killed in Gaza since the war erupted, including more than 4,000 children.

Four of them were Baz's relatives, killed in the strike that cost the 13-year-old's legs, her mother says.

Lamia says two of her daughters, Ikhlas and Khitam, and two grandchildren including a newborn baby were killed when the Israeli strike hit Ikhlas's home. The family were there to support Ikhlas who had just given birth.

"Their bodies were in shreds," says Lamia, who had to identify her daughters' bodies at a morgue. "I identified Khitam by her earrings and Ikhlas by her toes."

Layan, her face and arms dotted with injuries, asks: "How will I return to school when my friends walk and I can't?"

Lamia tries to reassure her: "I will be by your side. It will all be fine. You still have a future ahead of you."

At the hospital's burns unit, 14-year-old Lama al-Agha and her sister Sara, 15, lie in adjacent beds.

They are treated after an October 12 strike that killed Sara's twin Sama and brother Yahya, 12, says their mother, sitting between the two hospital beds and struggling to hold back tears.

Stitches and burn scars are visible on Lama's half-shaved head and her forehead.

"When they transferred me here, I asked the nurses to help me sit up and I discovered that my leg was amputated," the 14-year-old recalls.

"I've been through a lot of pain but I thank God that I'm still alive."

Lama is determined not to let her injury decide her future.

"I'll get an artificial leg and continue my studies, so I can achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. I will be strong for me and for my family," she says.

Hospital director Nahed Abu Taaema explains that due to the massive number of casualties and dwindling resources, medics are often left with no choice but to amputate limbs to prevent life-threatening complications.

"We have to choose between saving a patient's life or putting it at risk while trying to save their injured leg," says Abu Taaema.

Sporting a green football jersey and matching shorts, Ahmad Abu Shahmah, 14, uses crutches to walk around the ruins of his family's home in Khan Yunis.

Now surrounded by several of his cousins, Abu Shahmah is at the courtyard where he used to play football. But the building was destroyed in a strike that killed six of his cousins and an aunt.

"When I woke up (after surgery) I asked my brother, 'where is my leg?'" he recalls.

"He lied to me and said it was right there, and that I couldn't feel it because of the anaesthetics."

The following day, "my cousin told me the truth", says Abu Shahmah.

"I cried a lot. The first thing I thought about was that I will no longer be able to walk or play football like I would every day. I signed up to an academy one week before the war."

Abu Shahmah supports FC Barcelona, while his cousins are die-hard fans of Real Madrid.

One of them, Farid Abu Shahmah, says that if he "could turn back time and return Ahmad his leg, I'd be ready to give up Real and become a Barcelona fan like him."

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