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PA deflects blame for medical patients in Gaza being denied treatment

June 28, 2017 3:36 P.M. (Updated: June 28, 2017 11:17 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority (PA) has rejected accusations from Hamas and reports in Israeli media that it has been preventing Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip from leaving the territory for medical treatment, and said Israel was responsible for denying Gazans the exit permits, which has had fatal consequences in recent weeks.

Corroborating earlier reports that the Ramallah-based government was denying culpability, head of the PA’s medical referral department in the southern district Bassam al-Badri told Ma’an that Israel was accountable for the deterioration of the medical situation in Gaza, by denying exit to thousands of patients via the Erez crossing so that they may be treated in hospitals in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

Al-Badri said that only 50 percent of medical permits were approved as a result of the Israeli restrictions.

Health care inside Gaza has greatly suffered as part of the decade-long Israeli siege, with Israel limiting medical equipment allowed in and restricts travel for doctors seeking further medical training and specialization.

The situation has been exacerbated in recent weeks since Israel approved a PA request to slash the delivery of electricity supply to Gaza, with Palestinians there now being forced to cope with just a few hours of power a day, which has had devastating impact on hospitals in particular.

Al-Badri told Ma’an that the Palestinian Ministry of Health transfers between 1,600 and 1,800 patients, a quarter of whom are cancer patients, to the West Bank and Jerusalem every month.

However, a report published this week by Israeli news daily Haaretz said that the number represented a dramatic reduction in the PA’s issuance of vouchers to patients in Gaza.

To leave Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing to receive treatment in the occupied West Bank, Gazans must first apply to the PA before applying to Israel.

In April, the number of vouchers issued dropped below 2,000, whereas 2016 saw an average of 2,041 vouchers issued each month. In May, the number of vouchers issued plunged to just a few dozen, according to data from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI).

More than 90 percent of patients in Gaza who requested such vouchers over the past month did not received a reply from the PA, while only 10 of the some 120 daily requests submitted to the PA have been getting approved, according to the data.

However, al-Badri pointed out that the Israeli side rejects permits for hundreds of men, women, and children every month without giving a reason, adding that a number of children and adults have died after Israel refused to issue them and their families permits to access hospitals outside of Gaza.

Al-Badri said he rejected the Israeli media reports that blamed the PA for ceasing to facilitate medical referrals from Gaza to the West Bank, stressing that “the employees of the referral department in the Gaza Strip are doing their jobs.”

The reports were bolstered by accusations from the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, which said that three children had died in Gaza in recent days after failing to receive permits to seek treatment outside, as a result of PA and Israel restrictions.

"Since the beginning of the year 11 people, most of them children, have died as a result of refusal of travel permits to them by either Israel or the Palestinian Authority," ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra told AFP.

"There is a real fear of more deaths with the ongoing banning of medicine from entering (Gaza) and for the sick travel permits for treatment," Yousif Abu Rish, undersecretary for the Health Ministry, reportedly told a press conference. PHRI also recently documented that as a result of PA budget cuts, Gaza was facing its worst medication crisis in years.

"The crime of banning children from traveling for treatment is part of a series of crimes against the health sector in Gaza," Abu Rish reportedly said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Palestinian outlets al-Quds News quoted Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri as saying that “continuing to block websites in the West Bank is a failed attempt to block the truth and cover-up Abbas-Netanyahu's plan to choke Gaza and kill its children and patients” -- referring to a recent PA decision to block some 20 new sites allegedly affiliated to Hamas.

Critics have argued that the recent PA policies in Gaza allegedly are an effort to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of the besieged coastal enclave and hand over the territory to the PA.

The PA also cut salaries its Gaza-based employees in April by at least 30 percent, and decided to discontinue payments to some 277 former political prisoners of Israel, which some have said targets former prisoners in Gaza and those affiliated with Hamas, though the PA has yet to officially comment on the move.

Others have speculated that the PA’s policies are also intended to pressure Hamas to reverse its new alliance with discharged Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan, which a leaked report indicated could become the leader in the besieged territory.

“The humanitarian crisis in Gaza must be a wake-up call for everyone able to solve the problem,” PHRI Executive Director Ran Goldstein said earlier this month.

“Gaza’s children have become hostages in the political game played by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Israel. The change must be dramatic and immediate -- providing funds, medicines, and electric power, opening Gaza to the outside world and offering urgent humanitarian assistance,” Goldstein added.
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