Gaza baby’s death blamed on PA’s halting of coordination with Israel
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Gaza baby’s death blamed on PA’s halting of coordination with Israel

8-month-old was scheduled to have heart surgery in Israel, but Palestinians ceased handling entry permit requests in protest of planned Israeli annexation

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

Eight-month-old Omar Yaghi, a baby from the Gaza Strip, died last Thursday after his planned heart surgery in Israel was delayed due to the Palestinian Authority’s halting of coordination with Israel.

Omar was born with a life-threatening cardiac condition. Shevet Achim, a humanitarian organization, had agreed to sponsor his treatment at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, and he had an appointment scheduled there on May 24.

In late May, however, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced the PA was “absolved” of all of agreements and understandings with Israel, as part of the Palestinians’ response to Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority Civil Commission, which normally handles these requests, subsequently refused to deal with Omar’s case, Physicians for Human Rights spokesman Ron Yaron said in a statement.

Some 30,000 permits were issued in 2019 for Gazans to enter Israel for humanitarian reasons. Of the requests,16,000 were for Gazans who needed to be hospitalized, while the remaining 14,000 were for those accompanying the sick. In April 2020, only 159 permits were issued, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

The PA Civil Commission normally receives the requests, processes them and transfers them to Israel — but has ceased doing so since the end of Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, the Coordinator on Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement.

In a rare statement on the case, COGAT posted a note on its Facebook page saying the office was “deeply saddened by the death of 8-month-old Omar Yaghi.”

“In this period there are delays and disturbances in the process of transferring requests for permits for Gaza residents to enter Israel. The disturbances are the result of the PA Civil Committee’s decision to stop handling requests [for permits] from the Gaza Strip and to transfer them to us,” COGAT wrote.

It is unusual for COGAT to discuss individual cases publicly and in such detail.

The Yaghi family eventually managed to appeal to Physicians for Human Rights, which filed the new paperwork with the District Coordination Office at Erez Crossing, bypassing the PA. The DCO issued a new exit pass and a new appointment was booked for June 21.

Omar died on June 18, only three days before he was supposed to enter Israel for the potentially life-saving surgery, Yaron said.

Several human rights organizations, including Gisha and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, criticized Israel for blaming Yaghi’s death on the Palestinian Authority. Ultimately, the organizations wrote in a letter to COGAT and to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Israel maintains the checkpoints and has the responsibility to create an alternative permit system to ensure that Gazans in need can enter Israel.

“The State of Israel has sole authority over the checkpoints. The State of Israel controls the freedom of movement of Gaza’s residents. The State of Israel created the pass system and independently decides upon the conditions for issuing them… the Palestinian Authority is only a secondary actor,” the organizations wrote.

United Nations Special Envoy to the Middle East Nikolay Mladenov blamed the “the ending of civilian coordination” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority for Yaghi’s death.

“Already, an 8-month-old infant has lost his life due to this situation,” he said in a speech to the Security Council on Wednesday. “Surely there must be a red line when it comes to the lives of children.”

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