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UNRWA denounces 'attacks' against agency after hospital suspends services

Aug. 22, 2017 1:46 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 22, 2017 3:23 P.M.)
Locals in Qalqiliya protest outside UNRWA hospital on August 13 (MaanImages, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, has responded to anger over its decision to temporarily suspend services in a hospital in the northern occupied West Bank city of Qalqiliya more than two weeks ago, and clarified that the move came in response to an investigation over the death of a patient there.

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness first told Ma’an last Sunday, as locals in Qalqiliya protested outside the hospital, that all wings of the hospital, except the emergency room, had been ordered closed on August 11 due to “an ongoing investigation,” without providing further details.

At the time, head of the Palestinian doctors’ syndicate Najib Nitham described the move as “not carefully thought out,” and “unjustifiable,” further saying that access to the UNRWA hospital was a right for refugees "who had been displaced from their lands.”

Head of the Qalqiliya subcommittee of the Palestinian doctors' syndicate Ramez Abdullah, also present at the protest last week, called upon the Palestinian government and human rights groups to intervene to get UNRWA to go back on its decision to reduce services at hospital, which serves tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees.

Gunness released a statement on Monday addressing the anger, saying that “UNRWA regrets the recourse by certain groups and institutions to personal attacks and unfounded allegations in expressing opposition to the Agency's decision to suspend certain medical services at Qalqilya Hospital.”

He clarified that the wards would remain closed until UNRWA completed its investigation into the death of a patient and into “related appraisal of the hospital operations and performance.”

He told Ma'an on Tuesday that the hospital was only serving acute cases. "Presently we have admitted seven acute cases between yesterday and today. The total admissions including those admitted prior to the 21st is 22.”

According to the UNRWA spokesperson, who did not name the institutions or groups responsible for the “attacks,” critics had used the term “genocide” to describe UNRWA’s actions. Gunness denounced the reference as “irresponsible,” in his written statement.

“The decision to halt the intake of new patients for certain treatments at Qalqiliya hospital is an Agency decision and personal attacks against the UNRWA's West Bank Director of Operations and other staff are totally unacceptable. Uninterrupted access for Palestine refugees to UNRWA services, the continuity of these services and the safety and security of UNRWA staff are paramount,” the written statement said.

“The Agency remains committed to delivering health and other services to Palestine refugees, in accordance with its mandate. Despite very challenging financial conditions UNRWA continues rendering effective and essential services to millions of Palestine refugees, including those residing in Qalqilya,” he concluded.

UNRWA, established to provide direct relief and work programs to the 700,000 Palestinians who were displaced in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, now serves some five million Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA has experienced a severe financial crisis in recent years, as member countries have cut their contributions amid a deepening refugee crisis. As funds to the agency have been slashed, UNRWA has also faced criticism from Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory and neighboring countries over the agency’s shrinking services.
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