PA to again allow Gazan patients to be treated in Israeli hospitals

Outcry after deaths of three babies prompts Palestinian Health Ministry to issue more permits and funding for treatment

Illustrative image of a Palestinian nurse tending to a newborn at the neonatal intensive care unit at the UAE hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 27, 2017. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Illustrative image of a Palestinian nurse tending to a newborn at the neonatal intensive care unit at the UAE hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 27, 2017. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Palestinian Authority will reportedly once again allow patients from the Gaza Strip to be treated in Israel after three babies died on Tuesday in the enclave controlled by the Hamas terror group.

Following an international outcry over the deaths, the Palestinian Health Ministry will on Sunday increase the number of permits it issues for Gaza residents to receive medical care in Israel, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Friday.

The Palestinian Authority has severely cut back on medical aid to the Gaza Strip as part of a series of tough measures aimed at forcing Hamas to cede control of the coastal enclave, including reducing the amount of electricity it provides the Strip and slashing PA salaries to Gaza residents.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry blamed the Palestinian Authority for the deaths of the three babies, all less than a year old, saying Ramallah has refused to grant permits for them to be treated in Israel.

To leave Gaza and travel to Israel for medical treatment, or to receive treatment in the West Bank or abroad, Gazans must first get confirmation from the PA that it will pay for the treatments.

The PA pays for nearly all medical treatments of Gazans when they leave the Strip.

Gaza Deputy Health Minister Yusuf Abu Rish said, “There are a number of infants facing the same fate” as the three babies, who all suffered from cardiovascular issues.

He said 11 Gazans had died in the last few months due to the withholding of medical aid from the PA to the Gaza Strip, including five children.

However, the primary spokesperson for the ministry, Dr. Ashraf al-Qudra, has said nine deaths have occurred due to the PA measures.

The PA is accused by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) of cutting medical aid to Gaza by around 90 percent.

“The behavior of Mahmoud Abbas in stopping the medical transfers for Gaza’s sick, which has led to the martyrdom of a number of children, constitutes crimes against humanity,” said senior Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri in a statement on Twitter.

“We call for a greater humanitarian movement to save Gaza and stop the Abbas-Netanyahu scheme to strangle Gaza,” he added, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The PA has denied changing its policy in regards to Gaza medical care.

However, the Gaza Heath Ministry and international rights groups in Gaza say the PA has significantly decreased aid sent to the Strip as well as medical referrals.

Over 1,600 Gazan patients are waiting for referrals from the PA as of June 25, according to PHRI.

PHRI spokesperson Dana Moss said in 2016, the average number of requests approved by the PA per month was 2041. In May and June of 2017, she said, the PA was granting just 10 referrals a day, with the average number of requests being 120.

Gazan patients, she said, “are held hostage to political infighting.”

Moss, however, also said Israel was partly responsible for the crisis in Gaza because of the crippling effect its 10-year blockade has had on the Strip’s medical infrastructure.

Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip, which Jerusalem says is needed to keep out weaponry and materials that could be used for terror activity or in fighting against Israel. Israeli authorities allow humanitarian goods and also give some Gazans permits to enter Israel for medical care.

According to Moss, due to the blockade, Gaza medical doctors are not able to travel abroad to learn necessary surgeries. She also said Israel prevents essential equipment, such a radiation machines for cancer patients, from entering the Strip, which creates a context in which many Gazans must travel abroad to receive treatment.

“Israel is the country with effective control over the Gaza Strip. It is responsible for the patients and their right to healthcare,” she said.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry Branch that deals with Palestinian civilian affairs, said in a statement to The Times of Israel that Israel works in the background “to promote civil policies in order to assist the residents of Gaza.”

This is despite the fact, COGAT said, that Hamas “continuously attempts to take advantage of the civil steps promoted by Israel,” including abusing the permits given to Gazans “to transfer terror funds, weapons, instructions and intelligence to perform terror attacks in Israel.”

According to COGAT, in 2016, 30,768 crossings were coordinated from the Gaza Strip into Israel for medical attention. In 2017, so far, 13,530 crossings have been coordinated from the Gaza Strip into Israel for medical attention, and thus far in June that number is 732.

Yet these figures may not meet the needs on the ground. The World Health Organization said that during March and April, more than 42% of the permits to enter Israel were either delayed or denied.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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