Gaza's Hamas rulers said Wednesday they would bar patients from the Palestinian territory from going to a field hospital opened by a U.S. charity in protest of what they say are insufficient services.
The hospital, located on no-man's land along the Israeli border, is meant to support the overwhelmed health system in the blockaded enclave.
Medical workers access the site from Israel, while patients must cross through a Hamas-run checkpoint to reach the area. The idea of the hospital came under an informal truce between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007, to mitigate dire living conditions and prevent further cross-border violence.
Initially, Hamas and Israel - bitter foes that have fought three wars and dozens of smaller rounds of skirmishes - saw a common interest in the project. Gaza's overburdened health system has been gutted by years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade meant to isolate Hamas, conflicts and inter-Palestinian divisions.
The evangelical Christian group FriendShips, which quietly built its "Camp Gaza" tent hospital over the past year and a half, said this week it was "ready to receive patients." With a photo of a smiling medical worker on the project's Facebook page, it added that "we anxiously await the coordination of patients from Ministry of Health in Gaza."
But the ministry now says it will not send patients, claiming the hospital is not providing services that were promised.
"We have concluded that without offering the needed service, cooperation with the new hospital is unwelcome," said Abdeltaif al-Hajj, head of international cooperation. "It's not providing the services we hoped it will provide when the idea was discussed."
The Palestinian side wants the hospital to provide chemotherapy, blood disease care and other treatments unavailable in Gaza. Patients needing these services have to seek treatment in Israel or the West Bank through a complicated permit system. Instead, al-Hajj said it was offering services already available in Gaza, which he called "disappointing."
Ran Ichay, a consultant for FriendShips, said besides the outpatient family care, the center will provide dental treatments and mental care for the time being. But he said more volunteer staff is expected in May and "next steps will be, hopefully, oncology and rheumatology." He said the group plans to operate the hospital for 10 years.
Al-Hajj, the ministry official, said talks were being conducted, mostly through Qatari mediators, to resolve the issue but he gave no timeline for a resolution.