Mel Frykberg
Middle East Times
April 23, 2008 - 6:17pm

The Israeli Physicians for Human Rights organization accused the Israeli domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, this week of deliberately delaying the entrance of critically ill Gazans into Israel for urgent medical treatment. The group added that the number of cases rejected was also rising.

The human rights organization said that 32 Palestinians had died while awaiting entry permits for treatment in Israel since October 2007 and added that the Shin Bet had no reason to classify the patients as "security risks" and deny them entry into Israel.

"These deaths clearly illustrate that the Shin Bet, which often uses security concerns as a hollow excuse to deny patients entry into Israel, holds an unwarranted amount of power and needs to be more closely monitored," PHR said in a statement.

The U.N.'s health organization added that the lengthy period required for background checks was also resulting in needless deaths.

Shin Bet officials, however, claimed that, "Israel grants entry permits solely for humanitarian reasons. Many Palestinians take advantage of this policy and enter Israel using forged medical documents attained by bribing Palestinian doctors. Seeing as terror operatives could easily gain entry into Israel in this manner, this clearly poses a grave security concern for the State of Israel."

Shifa is Gaza's largest hospital and serves approximately 600,000 of Gaza's 1.5 million residents. It is divided into three main departments; gynecology and obstetrics, surgery, and internal medicine.

Last Thursday due to the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip, which prevents the entry of most goods allowing only small quantities of bare essentials in periodically, Shifa ran out of nitrous oxide, an essential anesthetic used during operations.

"We were forced to cancel all surgeries, including urgent cases, due to being unable to operate on patients without anesthetic," Shifa Hospital spokesman Sammy Hassan told the Middle East Times.

However, after the urgent intervention of the European Union, Israeli officials allowed in 20 cylinders of nitrous oxide, enough to last three days under normal circumstances. Further delivery of 23 cylinders of the anesthetic has been delayed by Israeli authorities.

"We will soon face the same problem again and will require the urgent intervention of international humanitarian organizations and the Europeans," explained Hassan.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, Shifa and most of the other hospitals in Gaza are out of stock of 55 pharmaceutical drugs. They have three months supply of 106 other essential drugs, and less than one month's supply of 158 others.

Shifa's MRI scan only recently began operating again after being idle for nearly two years due to a shortage of technical parts that have been grounded at Ashdod port by the Israeli authorities. Some innovative Gazan technicians, however, were able to reproduce similar parts recently to enable the machine to commence operations again.

"But supplies of everyday medical essentials are also problematic. We have shortages and regularly run out of basic medical supplies such as surgical gloves, bandages and face masks due to supplies by NGO's being interrupted by the Israeli authorities," said Hassan.

In several days the hospital could also run out of fuel as at present it has only 12,000 liters compared to the normal capacity of 50,000 liters. The fuel is used to operate the generators in emergencies when there are shortages as Israel has cut supplies as a means of pressuring the de-facto Hamas government of Gaza. The generators in turn keep essential machines such as incubators and kidney dialysis machines operating.

Several attacks by Palestinian gunmen on the border crossings which transfer fuel to Gaza have exacerbated the crisis with Israel closing the crossings and threatening to further reduce supplies of essentials.

The fuel crisis has also forced 70 percent of Gaza's ambulances to stop operating thereby threatening the survivors of the daily casualties of Israeli raids and attacks on the strip.

During a visit to Gaza last week, this correspondent saw the streets of Gaza practically deserted of vehicular traffic as people waited at the sides of the roads for the few cars that were still operating which were then jam-packed with commuters desperate to get to work.

It took this reporter 50 minutes to reach Gaza city from the al-Burej refugee camp, which is a few miles away from the city center. The trip normally takes about 10 minutes. On the way we passed lines of cars that had been parked there for days waiting for fuel to be delivered. We also passed lines of people queuing as they held plastic containers waiting to fill them.

The fuel shortages have also forced Shifa hospital to rely on a skeleton staff. "We have a staff of 1,200 but approximately 900 of them do not live within walking distance of the hospital so due to the daily transport problems getting to work, other staff have been forced to work double shifts, increasing both their stress levels and work loads which in turn impacts negatively on our patients," Hassan said.


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