Patients die as ambulances have no fuel and Israel denies travel

A sick Palestinian girl rests at al-Nasser children’s hospital in Gaza, where medical equipment is being run by emergency generators thanks to Israel’s fuel cuts, January 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemns the policies of collective punishment practiced by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) against the Palestinian civilian population, including imposing a tightened siege on the Gaza Strip, the denial or obstruction of access to patients to appropriate medical treatment outside or inside the Gaza Strip, which has caused further deterioration of the health conditions of dozens of patients. In the past few days, three Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip, including a woman and an infant, have died due to denial of their access to medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip, which suffers from the lack of appropriate medical equipment and a shortage in medicines. Additionally, many ambulances have stopped operation due to the lack of fuels as IOF have sharply decreased the amounts of fuels allowed into the Gaza Strip. Palestinian medical crews have not been able to provide appropriate medical services to the wounded and patients, especially in Rafah, which was a scene for a military operation conducted by IOF, during which five Palestinians were killed and another 15 were wounded.

According to investigations conducted by PCHR, on 16 February 2008, Reem Fu’ad Mahmoud al-Batash, 34, from Jabalya, a mother of six children, died as IOF delayed her access to medical treatment at Ekhilov Hospital in Israel for five days. Al-Batah suffered from a brain clot on 11 February 2008. She was evacuated to Kamal ‘Edwan Hospital in Beit Lahia, and from there, she was transferred to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City as she was in serious condition. Due to the lack of appropriate medical equipment and the shortage of medicines, doctors decided to transfer her to Ekhilov Hospital in Israel. According to sources with the Palestinian Ministry of Health, on 11 February 2008, an application to obtain permission for her to travel to Israel through Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing was submitted. IOF delayed considering the application for five days. On Friday morning, 15 February 2008, her health condition seriously deteriorated and she was pronounced clinically dead, before the Palestinian Ministry of Health received admission from IOF to allow her to travel to Ekhilov Hospital. Since she was in a very critical condition, it was not possible to transfer her to the Israeli hospital, and she died at approximately 09:00 on Saturday, 16 February 2008.

On 18 February 2008, ‘Abdul ‘Azim ‘Ouda ‘Abed Rabbu Khader, 59, from Jabalya refugee camp, died when his heath condition deteriorated. Khader had suffered from a blockage of arteries for nearly two months, during which time he had been admitted into the intensive care unit at Kamal ‘Edwan Hospital in Beit Lahia. He was also suffering from diabetes and hypertension. He was badly in need of cardio surgery which is not available in the Gaza Strip. He was not able to travel abroad due to the closure of Rafah International Crossing Point on the Egyptian border. Khader did not have an ID card. He came back to the Gaza Strip at the end of 2005 following 23 years of deportation, which had been preceded by 13 years of imprisonment in Israeli jails.

On 19 February 2008, Sa’id Mohammed Sa’id al-‘Aaidi, one-and-a-half years old, from al-Junaina neighborhood in Rafah, died as his health condition deteriorated. He had not been able to travel to an Egyptian hospital to continue medical treatment. The child had received medical treatment in December 2006 at Nasser Institute Hospital and Abu al-Reesh Hospital in Egypt. He was suffering from a problem in his liver, and the lack of testicles in the scrotum, inflation in the abdomen and delayed growth. He came back to the Gaza Strip at the end of the first stage of medical treatment, and he was supposed to start the second stage in six months. However, he was not able to travel to Egypt due to the closure of Rafah International Crossing Point. His health condition had deteriorated since 7 July 2007. He was repeatedly admitted into the Gaza European Hospital.

The decision taken by IOF to decrease the amounts of fuel allowed into the Gaza Strip has had serious impact on the lives of patients and the wounded in the Gaza Strip. Medical crews have not been able to provide medical services, especially during military operations conducted by IOF in the Gaza Strip.

PCHR’s field worker in Rafah reported that five out of seven ambulances stopped working on 17 February 2007 as fuel ran out, which endangered the lives of Palestinian civilians in the town, at a time IOF moved into al-Shouka village in the southeast of the town. During this military operation, five Palestinians were killed and at least 15 others were wounded.

According to sources at the Ministry of Health, 49 out of 57 ambulances of the emergency department have stopped working due to the lack of fuel. The crisis emerged last week, when the amounts of fuels provided to the department were decreased to less than 10 percent of weekly needs. The department received 300 liters of benzene and 400 liters of gasoline, although its weekly needs are estimated at 4,200 liters of benzene to operate 42 ambulances, and 3,500 liters of gasoline to operate another 15 ambulances. Because of the stoppage of ambulances, the evacuation of hundreds of the wounded and patients to hospitals in the Gaza Strip was delayed, while IOF have continued their military operations in the Gaza Strip.

PCHR strongly condemns measures of collective punishment taken by IOF, under which Palestinian patients have been denied access to appropriate medical treatment, and:

1) Calls upon the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to exert immediate pressure on Israel to abide by International Humanitarian Law, and to stop the policy of collective punishment against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.
2) Calls upon the High Contracting Parties to intervene effectively to allow Palestinian patients to move freely in order to access essential health care at hospitals and medical centers in Israel, the West Bank and abroad.
3) Demands providing the health sector in the Gaza Strip with necessary need to be able to provide appropriate medical treatment to the Palestinian civilian population.
4) Calls upon international organizations working in the OPT to work towards an immediate end to the policy of collective punishment practiced against Palestinian civilians in the OPT, to work to stop the deterioration in the health and humanitarian situation, and to allow the safe and free passage of food and medical supplies to protect the lives of the civilian population.
5) Holds IOF legally and morally responsible for the lives to the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip and demands them to fulfill their legal obligations towards the civilian population.

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