The heartbreaking images of a Palestinian baby portrayed as a victim of tear gas fired by Israeli forces on the Gaza border last month drew outrage internationally, fueling criticism of the Jewish state’s handling of the violent breach of its border.
Headlines above images of weeping family members holding 8-month-old Layla Ghandour described the baby as “the face of the Gaza carnage” a symbol of “Gaza’s life and death struggle.”
Now, the story of the baby’s death has taken a new turn with the claim of a 20-year-old Palestinian who was indicted Thursday on terror-related charges.
Mahmoud Omar, a member of Fatah’s terrorist wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, told Israeli investigators that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar paid his relatives to falsely tell the media that his baby cousin died of tear gas inhalation, the Times of Israel reported.
The indictment said Omar was arrested with another member of his group May 28 after they attempted to infiltrate Israel and torch an unmanned Israel Defense Forces post.
He disclosed he was related to Layla Ghandour, whose May 14 death was originally reported to have been caused by inhalation of tear gas sprayed by Israeli forces at Gaza border protesters.
Ten days later, however, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said the baby girl had been taken off a list of Palestinians killed in border clashes with Israeli troops while authorities await results of a pathologists report. Nearly all of the other fatalities in the protests were acknowledged by Hamas to be its members.
Omar, who said he was among the 40,000 Gazans taking part in the May 14 protests, told investigators his family informed him that Layla had died of a blood disease.
But Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, Omar said, paid Layla’s parents, Mariam and Anwar Ghandour, the equivalent of about $2,200 to tell the media that the infant had died due to tear gas inhalation at the Gaza protests.
Family members gave interviews blaming Israel for Layla’s death, the Times of Israel noted.
A May 15 article by Agence France-Presse cited the mother saying, “The Israelis killed her.”
The 17-year-old mother and other members of the family gave a detailed account to the AFP reporter of the purported sequence of events that led to Layla’s death.
The mother said she had a dentist appointment and left the baby at home. Her “little brother” took Layla to the border, saying he mistakenly thought his sister was at the border with his mother and other family members.
Reports that she had died from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during mass protests on the Gaza border were prominent in global news coverage, and her funeral the next day was featured on global TV news broadcasts and newspaper front pages.
At the time, an Israeli army spokesperson disputed the Palestinian claim, saying that “contrary to the unequivocal Palestinian announcement, we have evidence that undermines the credibility of the Palestinian Ministry of Health’s announcement regarding the death of the baby.”
The baby was the subject of a cartoon published by a Palestinian newspaper showing an Israeli soldier forcing a baby to drink poison. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was shown reading a newspaper with the cartoon clearly seen, the Times of Israel noted, which was interpreted as a deliberate message to Israel.
For decades fake and staged images and videos have been a key part of the strategy to turn public opinion and media coverage against Israel, noted the blog Legal Insurrection.