PA: Gaza Health Ministry stole medical aid in summer conflict

Hamas officials are further accused of currently barring hospital clean-up, taxing shipments entering the Strip, mismanaging funds

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Palestinian paramedics carry a man wounded in a strike at a marketplace in the Shejaiya neighborhood, as he arrives at a hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ Mohammed Abed)
Palestinian paramedics carry a man wounded in a strike at a marketplace in the Shejaiya neighborhood, as he arrives at a hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ Mohammed Abed)

The Palestinian Authority on Sunday accused the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry of having stolen medical equipment and medications that the PA sent during the summer conflict to assist the Strip’s overburdened hospitals, the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported.

In a fierce condemnation of its Gaza counterpart, a spokesman for the PA Health Ministry charged that Hamas was preventing volunteers from cleaning up garbage that piled up at Gaza’s public hospitals following a strike of its janitorial staff who had not been paid for months. He further said that Hamas had created a “new department” at the Kerem Shalom crossing that taxed all supplies — including medical aid — entering the Gaza Strip, and that since the formation of the Palestinian unity government, Gaza ministry officials have been withholding funds.

During the summer conflict, the PA ministry sent large shipments of medical aid, but “didn’t know where those medicines were distributed and who benefited from them,” PA Health Ministry spokesman Osama al-Najjar told a Ramallah press conference.

“After investigations, we have been informed that influential ministry officials in Gaza steal these medicines and equipment, and that the medicines do not go to hospitals and the health sector in the Gaza Strip which badly need them.”

The West Bank medical supply warehouses were “completely emptied” during the 50-day conflict, he said.

But despite the allegations and apparent shortage, the Ma’an report maintained that the PA continues to send medical equipment to the Gaza Strip.

The officials responsible for the missing medical equipment “invented” the janitorial crisis at Gaza public hospital, the spokesman said. The cleaning staff launched a general strike last week, after not receiving their salaries for months.

Photos published by Ma’an last week showed overflowing trash cans at the Shifa hospital. Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said that “dirt and garbage at the reception department of Shifa medical complex haven’t left room for even a single patient.”

While al-Najjar said the janitors had no claim against the ministry since they were employed by private companies, he indicated that the Hamas-run hospitals were facilitating the strike, which he called “blackmail.”

“Those cleaners have been incited on purpose to withdraw from their workplaces, and so far some influential officials of the Health Ministry have prevented volunteers from removing the piled garbage from Gaza hospitals, and this is a very serious matter,” he said. “We are being blackmailed and we won’t yield to this blackmail.”

On top of stealing equipment, the PA spokesman said Hamas had begun to “forcibly” tax all shipments entering the coastal enclave at the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Hamas has formed “a new department at the Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing called the general administration of custom tax security,” he said, which “forcibly collects 2.5 percent custom tax on everything that enters Gaza, including medicines and medical equipment.”

Al-Najjar also charged Gaza ministry officials with withholding money intended for the health and finance ministries as part of the Palestinian unity government agreements.

Since the unity government was formed, Hamas officials “haven’t sent a single shekel from the ministry’s revenues to the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Finance,” he said.

According to figures provided by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, some 2,200 Palestinians were killed, and 11,000 wounded during the 50-day conflict. Israel maintains that half the dead were terror operatives.

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