Mother hopes Gaza cancer care will ‘end our suffering’

Dr. Musa and Suhaila Nasir Department for Pediatric Cancer officially will open on Feb. 19 in Gaza. (AN photo by Hazem Balousha)
Updated 08 February 2019
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Mother hopes Gaza cancer care will ‘end our suffering’

  • Israeli authorities have repeatedly refused to allow the boy’s father, Hussein, 67, to escort him on the 30 km journey from Abasan in the southern Gaza Strip

 GAZA CITY: A Palestinian woman has accused Israeli authorities of subjecting her family to “real suffering” over restrictions on escorting their 13-year-old son to hospital for cancer treatment. 

Nisreen Al-Shawaf’s son, Saddam, developed leukemia several years ago and receives treatment in Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank or Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly refused to allow the boy’s father, Hussein, 67, to escort him on the 30 km journey from Abasan in the southern Gaza Strip. The refusals were made on “security grounds,” according to Al-Shawaf.

“The occupation manipulates us and the life of my child,” she said.

Treatment for Saddam’s illness has not been available in the Gaza Strip, which has been under virtual siege since the Hamas takeover in mid-2007. Now Al-Shawaf is looking to a new cancer-treatment center in Gaza to improve her son’s hopes of treatment.

The Dr. Musa and Suhaila Nasir Department for Pediatric Cancer will open on Feb. 19. The center, the largest in the Palestinian Authority, is funded by the Palestine Children’s Relief Foundation, a US-based nongovernmental organization founded in 1991 that provides medical services to sick and wounded children in the Middle East.

Ranan Al-Muthaffar, the foundation’s executive vice president for operations, told Arab News that all children with cancer in Gaza are referred for treatment abroad, but in most cases were unable to travel with their loved ones because of Israeli restrictions on permits.

The $3 million pediatric department will include two 16-room accommodation centers, a 15-bed daily care room, kitchen, pharmacy and library. It will also offer school instruction to help students continue their studies. Staff will consist of a director, four doctors and 17 nurses.

Dr. Zeina Salman, a volunteer doctor with the foundation, said that the department will provide chemotherapy treatment for about half of the cancer patients in Gaza, while those who need radiation therapy will have to travel to other hospitals.

In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health is forced to refer cancer patients to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank and Jerusalem, or to Israeli hospitals, where they must pay for treatment.

Al-Shawaf said the journey Saddam must undertake for treatment — from Gaza and through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing — represents “real suffering.” 

The trip begins with an application for an Israeli permit for the patient and his escort through the authority’s “treatment department.”

Saddam’s father, who is also suffering from cancer, accompanied his son on his first hospital visits.

“But we have been shocked by the authorities’ refusal to accept my husband as an escort for Saddam, and to set impossible conditions for granting a permit,” Al-Shawaf told Arab News.

She said her husband’s requests to escort his son had been denied four times.

Al-Shawaf said Israeli authorities had also forced her to reapply for a permit after she began accompanying Saddam.

The Israeli treatment of cancer patients, especially children, leaves families in a “whirlpool,” she said.

“They are burdened with daily anxiety about the treatment needed in Gaza and the permit
to leave the Erez crossing,” she said.

According to the ministry, 60 percent of patients’ requests for permits are rejected by Israeli authorities, and 5 percent of patients were detained in 2018.

More than 8,500 people, including 608 children, in the Gaza Strip needed treatment for cancer, the ministry said.

In a report issued on World Cancer Day on Feb. 4, the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights said that the psychological and physical suffering of cancer patients in Gaza is compounded by a shortage of medical equipment and medicines.

The center claimed Israeli restrictions had resulted in the deaths of 45 cancer patients in the enclave from 2016 to 2018.


Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

Updated 59 min 50 sec ago
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Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

  • EU foreign ministers said they are suspending talks with Turkey over air transport agreement
  • They backed EU’s proposal to decrease financial assistance to Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey on Tuesday rejected as “worthless” an initial set of sanctions approved by the European Union against Ankara, and vowed to send a new vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to reinforce its efforts to drill for hydrocarbons off the island of Cyprus.
EU foreign ministers on Monday approved sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. They said they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement, as well as high-level Turkey-EU dialogues, and would call on the European Investment Bank to review its lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU’s executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional “targeted measures” were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Speaking at a news conference in Macedonia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the sanctions aimed to “appease” Cyprus and were of “no importance.”
“The EU needs us concerning the migration issue or other issues,” he said. “They will come to us and hold contacts; there is no escaping that.”
“They know that the decisions they took cannot be applied,” he said. “They were forced to take the worthless decisions under pressure from the Greek Cypriots and Greece.”
Cavusoglu added: “If you take such decisions against Turkey, we will increase our activities. We have three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, will with send a fourth.”
Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the EU for ignoring the rights of Turkish Cypriots and accused the 28-nation bloc of “prejudice and bias.”
It added that Turkey was determined to protect its rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus. A third Turkish exploration ship is also in the area. Turkey insists that it has rights over certain offshore zones and that Turkish Cypriots have rights over others.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Cypriot officials accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 68 kilometers off the island’s west coast.