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PA denies reports that shipments of medicine and baby formula to Gaza were halted

May 10, 2017 7:14 P.M. (Updated: May 11, 2017 2:11 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- Following reports from Gaza’s Ministry of Health that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was halting shipments of baby formula and medicines to hospitals in the besieged enclave, the PA completely denied the claims on Wednesday.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said in a statement on Tuesday that the PA had informed the ministry that it would stop sending medicine and milk to the Gaza Strip.

Al-Qidra called the move a “political decision,” referring to heightened conflicts between Hamas, the de facto leading party in the Gaza Strip, and the Fatah-led PA in the occupied West Bank, adding that the ministry had begun communications with the PA Ministry of Health in Ramallah in an attempt to halt the decision.

However, the PA Ministry of Health said on Wednesday that not only were the Gaza ministry's claims false, but that a shipment of children’s formula was expected to be delivered to the Gaza Strip in the coming few days.

The sources added that the milk was for children suffering from genetic diseases, adding that the worth of the shipment was estimated to be a quarter of a million shekels ($69,279).

General-Director of Gaza’s Health Ministry Munir al-Bursh said on Tuesday that the medicine crisis in the besieged enclave continued to escalate each day, and that medicine had not been sent to the Gaza Strip for three months, while 17 types of cancer medicines have run out in Gaza’s hospitals.

He noted that medicine was typically shipped to the Gaza Strip from the West Bank once every two months.

Al-Bursh added that more than 90 percent of cancer medicines were not currently available in Gaza, which he said risked forcing the ministry to depend on transferring cancer patients to hospitals abroad or obtaining medicine outside of the Palestinian territory, all of which requires difficult-to-obtain Israeli permits.

The PA Ministry of Health, meanwhile, said that if medicine was unavailable in Gaza, it meant that it was also unavailable in the West Bank, saying that any medicine available in the West Bank was sent to the Gaza Strip.

However, Israeli daily Haaretz reported last month that PA authorities had planned to slash Gaza’s health budget this month as “punishment” of the Hamas government for “turning down Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ initiatives to restore PA control in the Strip.”

Officials close to Abbas had reportedly told Haaretz that the PA would “only pay for salaries of medical personnel, not for the ongoing management of the health care system.”

The PA’s funding of Gaza’s education system is also expected to be affected.

“We realize this sounds cruel, but in the end, after 10 years of the split and Hamas rule in the Strip, (Hamas) must decide whether it will control things in every sense, including ongoing expenses, or let the Palestinian government rule,” a senior adviser to Abbas reportedly told Haaretz.

Fatah and Hamas have long been political rivals following Hamas’ success in general elections in Gaza in 2006, which erupted into a violent conflict between the two groups. After Hamas took control of the territory, Israel imposed a full siege on the Palestinian territory, which has been ongoing for a decade, severely restricting any materials or items entering or leaving the enclave.

The cutting of PA salaries to their Gaza-based civil employees coupled with a devastating electricity crisis that Hamas has blamed on the PA for refusing to alleviate taxes levied on electricity from the West Bank, has severely exacerbated the long-running conflict.

While Hamas and the PA have continually blamed each other for the crisis in Gaza, Israeli rights group B’Tselem discussed the role of the Israeli government in causing the difficult conditions for sick patients in Gaza in a 2016 report, as 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 two million residents.

The group said that the vast majority of patients in Gaza were not allowed to leave the territory, even when the treatment they need was only available outside of the besieged enclave. “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, including people suffering from severe orthopedic problems, hearing and visual impairment and other grave illnesses.”
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