THE United Nations on Wednesday said it was ‘deeply concerned’ about the deterioration of the health care system in the Gaza Strip due to Israeli closures of the territory.
A year after Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza the borders of the impoverished territory remain mostly sealed, preventing hundreds of patients each month from leaving to receive timely advanced care, officials said.
‘We are deeply concerned about the current health system in Gaza and in particular its capacity and ability to deliver proper standards of health care to the people of Gaza,’ UN Humanitarian Coordinator Max Gaylard said.
‘This adverse situation is not like Haiti. Haiti has been destroyed by an earthquake,’ he told reporters at Gaza’s main Al-Shifa hospital. ‘The circumstances here are entirely man-made and can be fixed accordingly.’
Israel tightened its siege on Gaza in June 2007 after the democratically elected Hamas movement seized power in the Strip.
Israel sealed the territory of 1.5 million people off from all but vital humanitarian aid and strictly limiting travel into and out of Gaza, to put pressure on Hamas.
Human rights groups, both international and Israeli, slammed Israel’s siege of Gaza, branding it ‘collective punishment.’
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the embargo has led to shortages of certain drugs, delayed or prevented the entry of vital equipment and spare parts, and kept doctors and nurses from pursuing advanced training.
‘Gaza has a reasonably decent health care system, quite a sophisticated health care system. It’s not, if you like, a third world country in this respect,’ said Tony Laurence, the WHO head for the Palestinian territories.
‘But you cannot run a system of this kind, a modern health care system, in isolation from the international community.’
The lack of certain kinds of advanced care meanwhile forces hundreds of Gazans to seek passage to Israel each month for treatment there or in third countries, but many are denied or receive no response.
In December there were 1,103 applications for advanced care with 21 per cent of applicants declined, and 27 patients died while waiting for Israeli permits in 2009, according to the WHO.
‘If that happened in my country, in the UK, in Europe, in Israel, if an individual who needed urgent treatment was unable to get out because of a bureaucratic obstacle, it would be a scandal,’ Laurence said.
‘Here it happens to 300 or 400 people every month.’
One such patient was Fidaa Hijjy, an 18-year-old woman diagnosed with Hodgkins disease who applied for a permit to be treated in Israel on three occasions last autumn but did not receive any response.
She died on November 11, two days after her last missed appointment at an Israeli hospital.
‘The day of the funeral we got a call from the Palestinian liaison office saying the Israelis agreed that we should make a fourth appointment,’ Amal Hijjy, one of her relatives, told reporters.
‘I said there’s no need to make another appointment because the girl died yesterday,’ she said.
Gaza is still under Israeli occupation as Israel controls air, sea and land access to the Strip.
• Obama envoy George Mitchell’s latest tour of the Middle East comes less than a week after Obama’s national security adviser James Jones met Palestinian and Israeli leaders aimed at furthering US-led peace efforts.
Mitchell landed in Beirut on Monday and on Tuesday met with PM Saad Hariri and foreign minister Ali Al-Shami, meeting on Wednesday with President Michel Sleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri.
According to a statement released by the US embassy in Beirut, Mitchell has stressed to Lebanese officials that Washington will not make any move that would come at the expense of Lebanon.
He reiterated Washington’s commitment to the stalled Middle East peace process and Lebanon’s independence.
‘Senator Mitchell conveyed the commitment of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to comprehensive peace in the Middle East, which includes peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon and the full normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states,’ the US embassy in Lebanon said in its statement.
It added that the US envoy in his meeting with Prime Minister Hariri late Tuesday confirmed that Washington would not support the full naturalisation as Lebanese citizens of an estimated 250,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.
‘Senator Mitchell reiterated that Lebanon would play a key role in the long-term effort to build lasting and comprehensive peace and stability in the Middle East region and that there would not be a lasting solution reached at Lebanon’s expense,’ the statement said.
Al-Shami stressed during his talks with Mitchell on Lebanon’s rejection of naturalisation of Palestinians and commitment to international resolutions, mainly Security Council resolution 1701.
The Lebanese foreign minister also discussed with the envoy measures taken in US airports against Lebanese nationals and the US House of Representatives’ bill that calls for punitive measures against Middle East television networks seen as fuelling anti-American hatred, including Al-Manar TV.
George Mitchell met President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday and said Syria had an important role to play in the search for peace in the Middle East which includes ‘the full normalisation of the relations between Israel and the Arab states,’ he said after arriving in.
He said on arrival in Damascus: ‘Syria certainly has an important role to play in all these efforts.’
‘This is my third meeting with the president and I look forward to build on the positive relationship we have to make tangible progress on our efforts to peace and on a bilateral relationship between the US and Syria,’ he said.
Since Obama came to office exactly one year ago, official visits to Syria by US officials have multiplied as Washington believes Damascus can also help with issues relating to Iraq and Lebanon.
Mitchell’s latest tour comes less than a week after Obama’s national security adviser James Jones met Palestinian and Israeli leaders aimed at furthering US-led peace efforts.
Mitchell reaffirmed President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s commitment ‘to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East that includes peace between Israel and Palestinians, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon.
‘It also includes the full normalisation of the relations between Israel and the Arab states. Syria certainly has an important role to play in all these efforts,’ he told reporters.
Mitchell is also due to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders on his trip as Washington strives to revive long-stalled peace talks, stymied when Israel launched an offensive on the Gaza Strip in December 2008.
Leaving Syria, he said: ‘This was my third meeting with the president and I look forward to building on the positive relationship we have to make tangible progress on our efforts to peace and on a bilateral relationship between US and Syria.’