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NGO mourns 2 Palestinians after Israel denied them exit from Gaza for treatment

May 11, 2017 11:01 A.M. (Updated: May 11, 2017 4:59 P.M.)
Palestinian men carry a man wounded by Israeli security forces into a hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Oct. 9, 2015. (AFP/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Health non-profit Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) mourned on Wednesday the recent deaths of two Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, including a five-year-old girl, after Israeli authorities denied them permission to leave the besieged territory for treatment.

MAP cited the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, which reported in April the death of five-year-old Aya Khalil Abu Mitalq, who passed away waiting for Israeli authorities to grant her a travel permit to a hospital in occupied East Jerusalem to treat a metabolic disorder, after Israel had already failed twice to respond to permit requests submitted by her family.

Earlier this month, al-Mezan also reported the death of 59-year-old Walid Muhammad Muhammad Qaaoud, who passed away on May 2 after cancer metastasized all over his body, following more than a year of Israeli authorities rejecting his requests for a travel permit to receive life-saving treatment in a hospital in East Jerusalem.

Al-Mezan added that when Qaaoud returned from his last visit to the Augusta Victoria hospital in East Jerusalem in November 2015, Israeli forces at the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza detained him for six hours, strip searched him, and forced him to stand on one leg facing the wall for a certain period of time.

MAP quoted the World Health Organization (WHO) as saying that Israeli authorities had denied or delayed 40 percent of requests to leave Gaza for medical reasons in February, in a stark increase from 2012, when the rejection rate was 8 percent.

“Israel, as the occupying power of the occupied Palestinian territory, is obliged to ensure that adequate medical care is provided to the people under its effective control,” MAP said in a statement on Wednesday. “Restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians needing health care, and also their carers, are one of a number of barriers to health care imposed by Israeli authorities.”

MAP highlighted the ongoing electricity crisis as having a dire impact on health care access in the blockaded coastal enclave, while the Gaza Ministry of Health warned earlier this week that Gaza was experiencing serious medicine shortages after having received no medicine shipments in three months.

“It is exactly when we need to see Israel taking significant steps to improve its record in facilitating travel permits for essential medical treatment outside Gaza that we are witnessing the opposite,” MAP Advocacy Director Neil Sammonds said. “We urge all those with influence to ensure that positive changes are quickly made, before yet more lives are put at risk.”

Israeli rights group B’Tselem denounced the role of the Israeli government in creating difficult conditions for sick patients in Gaza in a 2016 report, detailing how Israeli forces have imposed restrictions on medicines entering the besieged territory and have prevented doctors in Gaza from traveling outside the enclave to receive additional training to meet the needs of Gaza's nearly two million residents.

“As a rule, Israeli authorities permit patients to enter Israel for medical care only in life-and-death cases. Although permits are sometimes issued for people suffering from severe but non-life threatening conditions, even then the treatment is sometimes cut short because authorities refuse to issue additional permits,” B’Tselem said.“The criteria for issuing permits for what Israel calls ‘quality of life’ medical care are unknown. This leaves patients in a constant state of uncertainty. Many have no choice but to go without care.”

The nearly decade-long Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has also been maintained by Egypt, has plunged the Palestinian territory into extreme poverty. Gaza's infrastructure has yet to recover from the devastation of three Israeli offensives over the past six years. The slow and sometimes stagnant reconstruction of the besieged coastal enclave has only been worsened by the blockade, leading the UN to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.
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