KHAN YOUNIS — A Palestinian man whose face was severely damaged by a tear gas canister that was shot into his mouth by Israeli troops during a border protest last week was allowed to leave Gaza on Thursday for treatment at a Jerusalem hospital.
Haitham Abu Sabla, 24, spent three days on life support after being wounded during the protest along Gaza's border with Israel last Friday.
The canister pierced his cheek and got stuck in his mouth. Associated Press photos showed Abu Sabla running, wobbling and falling on the ground with the acrid white smoke spewing from his mouth and nose.
"It's the first time we have dealt with such a thing," said Dr. Hussam al-Majayda, the surgeon who operated on Abu Sabla. He said it took 45 minutes to remove the canister.
Abu Sabla's jaw and face suffered multiple fractures, and his teeth and nose were damaged. Doctors say Abu Sabla has difficulty breathing.
On Wednesday, Abu Sabla, who is unemployed, was in a hospital bed with white bandages covering the lower part of his face, surrounded by nearly a dozen friends and relatives.
He complained about numbness in his back and pointed at his lungs and stomach. Typing a message on his smartphone, he wrote that he feels "gas is still inside."
His aunt, Tahani, standing at his bedside, said she still smells tear gas when she gets her head close to try to listen.
Abu Sabla was a frequent participant in the near-weekly protests along the Israeli border and was about 50 meters (yards) away from the fence when he was struck.
It was not immediately clear what he was doing when he was hit. The army frequently fires tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Typing on his phone, Abu Sabla wrote that he wants "just to get treatment."
More than 120 Palestinians have been killed and over 3,800 have been wounded by Israeli fire since the protests were launched on March 30.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, has encouraged young men to participate in the rallies to defy an 11-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
Israel accuses the militant group of using civilian protesters as human shields and trying to use the protests as cover to carry out attacks. Protesters have thrown burning tires and firebombs toward the border, and have attempted to cut through the fence with wire cutters.
On Thursday, Abu Sabla was transferred to St. Joseph's, an Arab hospital in east Jerusalem, after being granted an Israeli permit.
On Friday, no protests are planned due to the Eid al-Fitr holiday, a three-day feast marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Hamas urged people to head for border protest camps in the morning, perform prayers and go to visit bereaved families instead of protesting.