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Palestinians mourn an infant caught in the deadly Israel-Gaza border battle

Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

A skinny boy named Ammar, who is 12 but looks much younger, spent Monday playing with his sister's blue-eyed, 10-month-old daughter, Leila, at the cramped apartment where they both lived in the Gaza Strip.

When Leila seemed hungry, he shared a piece of flat bread with her.

His sister, he figured, was with other family members at the massive Palestinian protests demanding a right to return to their ancestral homeland.

He decided to go find them.

He carried Leila to a bus that was leaving from a nearby mosque for the encampment where the family had been stationing itself along the eastern border of Gaza during the weeks of demonstrations.

When Ammar reached the camp, it was teeming with thousands of people, many of them threatening to storm security barriers and swarm into Israel. Israeli forces held them back with barrages of gunfire and tear gas. He made his way toward a security barrier, where his relatives usually gathered.

Suddenly he was surrounded by clouds of acrid white smoke. His niece began to cough.

"I put a scarf on my mouth and was trying to find my family," Ammar recalled.

Finally, he found his mother and one of Leila's aunts. They were shocked to see him appear through the haze, with the infant in his arms. The baby's mother had never gone to the protests and stayed home to take a nap, they said.

The aunt took the baby from Ammar, and the three of them started running toward the bus. The girl's hands were turning blue.

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