Over 50 Palestinians died in 2017 awaiting Israeli medical permits: WHO

Palestinian medical staff stand next to a patient as she speaks to the media, calling on Egypt to open the Rafah crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Over 50 Palestinians died in 2017 awaiting Israeli medical permits: WHO

GAZA CITY: More than 50 Palestinians died waiting for Israeli visas to travel for medical treatment last year, with only around half of all applications granted, new figures showed Tuesday.
A total of 54 Palestinians died awaiting permits in 2017, the World Health Organization said, in what rights activists called an overly bureaucratic system which deprives Palestinians of their right to health care.
The WHO said it did not have a directly comparable figure for 2016, but Al Mezan Center for Human Rights said it had recorded only a couple per annum in previous years.
Israel argues rigorous checks are necessary for security reasons for those coming from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave ruled by its enemy Hamas.
Gazans require Israeli permits to leave the enclave and travel to Jerusalem or the West Bank for treatment which the Palestinian Authority, the internationally recognized Palestinian government, pays for.
High-quality medical care for conditions such as cancer is not possible in Gaza, largely due to a shortage of facilities and Israel’s restrictions on imports of key medical technology it argues could be seized by Hamas for military purposes.
Of more than 25,000 applications to travel for treatment in 2017, only 54 percent were granted in time for their appointments.
This was down from 62 percent the year before and 92 percent as recently as 2012, the WHO said.
“There is a worrying decline in the approval rate for patients to exit Gaza, with 2017 the lowest rate since WHO began monitoring this in 2008,” said Gerald Rockenschaub, head of WHO offices in the Palestinian territories.
In a joint statement Tuesday, Al Mezan, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Medical Aid for Palestinians and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel called on Israel to ease restrictions.
Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine head for HRW, said they had seen “wider and wider” use of security justification to reject or delay permits for Palestinians.
“It is not based on security but based on a political strategy to isolate Hamas that uses the people of Gaza as collateral in that calculus,” he told AFP.
“Hamas operates every day to take advantage of the civilian measures that the state of Israel promotes,” a statement from COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body responsible for coordination of such permits, said in response.


UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

Updated 18 August 2018
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UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday presented four options aimed at boosting the protection of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories, from sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.
The proposals were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since late March.
The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely however that Israel would agree to the proposals.
In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:
• Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.
• Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”
• Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.
• Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.
A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.
A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.
In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.
In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for Palestinian deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians.
Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”
“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”
On Friday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians taking part in protests along the Gaza border and 270 other Palestinians were wounded.
Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.
“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”
UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”
UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency.
The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.
UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.
The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including its Hamas rulers, have fought three wars since 2008.