After delay, UN to handle Gaza medical transfers to Israel, West Bank
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After delay, UN to handle Gaza medical transfers to Israel, West Bank

Mechanism had initially been announced in July, but was reportedly stalled for three months due to the Palestinian Authority not accepting deal

Palestinians are seen crossing at the Erez crossing with Israel near Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on  August 27, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinians are seen crossing at the Erez crossing with Israel near Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on August 27, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The United Nations said that it had reached a temporary arrangement in which the World Health Organization would coordinate between the Palestinian Authority and Israel to ensure Gazans could receive exit permits to be treated in Israel and West Bank hospitals.

“Following extensive advocacy and negotiations with stakeholders, WHO on Sunday, September 6, initiated a temporary coordination mechanism to support Palestinian patients and companions required by Israel to apply for permits to access essential health services outside the Gaza Strip,” Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the WHO’s mission to the Palestinians, said in a statement on Monday.

Palestinian health official Osama al-Najjar told The Times of Israel that the temporary arrangement had been finalized during a visit by PA ministers to Gaza last week led by PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila.

The mechanism had originally been announced on July 20, with the promise that it would begin operating by the second half of July. However, it was subsequently delayed for two and a half months without any public explanation.

According to the Israel’s Kan public broadcaster, Israel had already agreed to the proposal, but the Palestinian Authority delayed accepting the arrangement.

Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT) did not respond to a request for comment.

Since the Hamas terror group took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Gazans have seen their freedom of movement tightly regulated by neighboring Israel and Egypt. Those wishing to travel, even for humanitarian reasons, face a byzantine permit system.

Illustrative: Palestinians wait to travel to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 26, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Palestinian residents of Gaza who need to travel to Israel or the West Bank for medical treatment normally turn to the PA’s Health Liaison Office in the Strip, which coordinates with the West Bank Civil Affairs Commission, which in turn works with Israel to coordinate the permits.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, however, both Egypt and Jordan have closed their borders, with some Gazans waiting in vain for the crisis to pass so they can travel to neighboring states for treatment. And since PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ announcement in late May that the PA was absolved of all agreements and understandings with Israel, the PA has largely ceased coordinating with Israel to issue permits to Gazans.

The number of humanitarian exit permits issued for Gaza residents in July dropped to some 260, compared to 2,910 in February, according to the WHO.

Rights groups who have been trying to mediate between Israel and the patients say there is a huge backlog of sick people who have not been able to access treatment because they could not get exit permits.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said it handled 263 applications from Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip between May and August; 103 of them were cancer patients, 20 of of which were children. The number of rejected permits, meanwhile, went up to 50%.

“Every day, hundreds of patients cannot leave for medical treatment because they did not receive a permit — or even a reply to the requests they submitted — and subsequently miss essential treatments,” said PHR-Israel director Ran Goldstein. “Every patient should be allowed to leave Gaza for treatment without delays or bureaucratic hurdles.”

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