Girl treated at Gaza hospital
Photo: AFP

WHO: Dozens die in Gaza because of delayed Israeli medical permits

UN's health organization says that while Israel is letting in unprecedented number of Palestinian patients for care, lengthy period required for background security checks result in needless deaths. Top Israeli coordinator rejects claim, cites cases in which Palestinians have used illnesses as pretext to carry out bombings

A leading health organization said on Tuesday that dozens of Gaza residents have died waiting for medical treatment because of delays to obtain permits to enter Israel, combined with a crumbling health system in Gaza.


The United Nation's World Health Organization listed 32 cases since October last year in which Gaza residents, ranging from a 1-year-old child to a 77-year-old man, died because they could not obtain urgent medical treatment.


Six were waiting for Israeli authorities to issue a permit to enter, according to the WHO report. It said others were denied permits because they were considered a security risk to Israel - including a 65-year-old woman. Others had obtained a permit but died while waiting for security coordination to cross into Israel, the report said.


It could not provide comparative figures and said it was hard to measure whether faster treatment would have saved them, characterising many of the deaths as unnecessary.


Israel says it needs to do lengthy checks on Gaza residents because of fears they could use illness as a pretext to carry out attacks. It has also challenged the number of cases WHO listed.


Colonel Nir Press, head of Israel 's Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza, said it was impossible to speed up the permit process because of security needs.


''They (Hamas) use humanitarian needs to attack us. We have to check every request,'' Press said.

Press said last year two middle-aged mothers who applied for permits for health treatment were discovered as would-be suicide bombers. "Even under fire and under threat we still coordinate the health needs of Gaza's population," said the Colonel.


Thousands of Gazans have been treated over the years in Israel.


Gaza's access to external medical care was mostly limited after Hamas seized power of the strip in June, prompting Egypt and Israel to seal their borders. Israel has only allowed in urgent medical cases, and Egypt has accepted only a trickle of Gaza patients.


The Gaza Strip does not have much specialized medical care, and doctors traditionally transfer Palestinians to neighboring Egypt, Israel and to Jordan for treatment of serious illnesses.


Egypt refuses to handle cases

Although Israel is letting in more medical patients than ever before, it's taking longer to apply for permits, said Ambrogio Manenti, head of the WHO in Jerusalem. The report listed six Gazans who died while waiting for a permit. Patients with urgent cases are meant to be issued permits in less than two days, but can now take up to four days, the report said.


Other patients have died while waiting at the Erez crossing, which Gazans use to pass into Israel. Israel frequently shuts down the crossing, because Hamas militants fire rockets nearby, aiming for Israeli soldiers and nearby Israeli communities.


Press said Palestinians should coordinate with Egypt more to allow patients in. So far, Egypt has refused to deal with Gaza's Hamas rulers, but has allowed some patients in through Israel, making the process cumbersome.


Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but human rights groups maintain that Israel is still technically occupying Gaza and responsible for its 1.4 million residents, because Israel controls most of Gaza's border crossings, air space and seacoast.


The report detailed the case of a 9-year-old boy with a brain lesion. Because of breakdowns and shortages in Gaza, his first CT scan was delayed, Nine days after he fell ill, an application for transfer to Israel was made, and four days passed until it was approved. Another day went by until Israel approved a medical team to accompany him, but the boy died that day in a Gaza hospital.


Manenti said the case showed the ''nonsense'' of the situation. ''From a health point of view, this is a tragedy. It could be easily avoided,'' he said.


Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report


פרסום ראשון: 04.01.08, 19:09
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