Gaza Christians face Christmas travel ban

Gaza Christians face Christmas travel ban
Orthodox Christian worshippers hold candles during the Easter Eve service at the St. Porphyrios church in Gaza City. (AP)
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Updated 16 December 2019

Gaza Christians face Christmas travel ban

Gaza Christians face Christmas travel ban
  • ‘West Bank is part of Palestine, there is no logical reason to prevent Christians from traveling and even staying there’

GAZA CITY: Hatem Al-Far, 51, and his family seem nervous. They are awaiting the issuance of Israeli permits to visit the rest of his family and the holy places in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Al-Far lives in Gaza, but he has not been able to visit Bethlehem for four years, while Israel sometimes allows his wife and one of his children to travel to the West Bank during the Christmas and Easter.

Israel announced earlier that Christians in Gaza would not be allowed to visit the holy places for the first time, while 100 Palestinians would be allowed out of the Gaza Strip to Jordan.

The announcement has affected Al-Far, his family and Christians in Gaza who will not be able to go to the West Bank.

“I don’t trust anything until I get the permit in my hands, or at least my wife and children get the permits to travel and meet my daughter and son who are currently living in the West Bank.” Al-Far said.

He added: “Christmas is the most prominent opportunity for us as a family to meet. I do not know what is the reason for preventing me from obtaining a permit to visit the Church of the Nativity and do prayers there. The West Bank is part of Palestine, there is no logical reason to prevent any Christian from traveling and even staying there if he wishes.”

Israel tightly restricts movements out of the Gaza Strip, a territory controlled by the extremist group Hamas since 2007.

Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians — most of them Greek Orthodox — among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip.

Driven by the shattered economic situation, the siege, and the Israeli wars, the number of Christians in Gaza has shrunk in recent years, some of whom have moved to live in the West Bank or emigrate abroad.

I do not know what is the reason for preventing me from obtaining a permit to visit the Church of the Nativity and do prayers there.

Hatem Al-Far, Palestinian Christian

A number of Christians in Gaza mentioned that when Israel grants permits it does not grant them to all family members, which makes traveling difficult in the holiday season.

Hani Farah, secretary-general of the YMCA in Gaza, said: “Israel practices all forms of repression and violations against the Palestinians, regardless of their religion or gender.”

He added: “Just as Israeli bombs and missiles do not differentiate between the Palestinians, the blockade of Israel and its repressive measures do not differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian. We are all trapped in Gaza and we share pain and suffering.”

Like hundreds of other Christian Gazans who had applied for permits, Farah — who is a lay member of the Greek Orthodox community — had not received one for himself, his wife or their four children.

With the exception of the holiday seasons, Christians suffer from severe restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of Gazans to the West Bank, according to Farah.

The number of Christians in Gaza is shrinking due to several factors, according to Farah, the most important of which are economic conditions.

“When young people do not find work they are forced to travel abroad. The same is true for girls when they want to be associated with a husband but do not find someone to approach them, so they travel in order to marry.”

Gisha, the Israeli legal center for freedom of movement, said: “The decrease in the number of holiday permits issued to Christians in Gaza over the years, and the fact that this Christmas Israel has not allocated any permits for Christians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, point to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, a deepening of Israel’s separation policy.”


Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low
Lebanese soldiers patrol as they try to enforce a total lockdown in the southern suburbs of Beirut as a measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
Updated 22 min 51 sec ago

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low
  • Hospitals are running out of space and supplies as infections continue to rise
  • All the beds designated for COVID-19 patients in hospitals are occupied, as well as in emergency departments, and there are dozens of patients moving from one hospital to another in search of a bed

BEIRUT: Many doctors specializing in bacterial and infectious diseases expect a further jump in the number of people of infected with COVID-19 next week in Lebanon with hospitals exceeding their capacity.

On Sunday, the total number of laboratory-confirmed infections exceeded a quarter of a million people in the country.

In the first 17 days of the year 67,655 new cases were recorded, and the lockdown period is expected to be extended for at least 10 more days.

Suleiman Haroun, head of the Lebanese Syndicate of Private Hospitals, said: “The epidemiological scene in Lebanon reflects part of the reality, not all of it. The real situation will be worse yet.”

He said: “All the beds designated for COVID-19 patients in hospitals are occupied, as well as in emergency departments, and there are dozens of patients moving from one hospital to another in search of a bed. Hospitals have exceeded their capacity.”

Pulmonologist and intensive care specialist Dr. Wael Jaroush said: “I have never seen anything like what I see in the hospitals now. I never imagined that I would ever go through such an experience. There is no room for patients in the emergency departments.

“They are dying in their homes. Some of them are begging to buy oxygen generators, new or second hand.

“The price of a new one is normally $700, yet people are selling used devices for about $5,000, and some patients are forced to buy them in foreign currency, meaning that the patient’s family buy the dollar on the black market for more than LBP8,000.”

Jaroush said that patients were infected with the virus because of mixing with other people at the end of last year and in the first 10 days of January. He expected that their number would increase during Monday and Tuesday. He would wait to see if the numbers declined on Wednesday and Thursday.

He said that 10-liter oxygen bottles and smaller ones are out of stock “because of the high demand on them, either for storage due to lack of confidence in the state, or because they are not available in hospitals.”

“As a doctor, I come across patients who tell me that they bought the oxygen bottle two months ago, for example, and put it in their homes, just as they did when they resorted to storing medicines.”

He pointed out: “These oxygen bottles do not last long. A COVID-19 patient who cannot find a vacant bed in the hospital and is asked to find oxygen and stay at home needs 40 or 50 liters of oxygen. So when the 10-liter oxygen bottle runs out, the patient dies because his heart stops. This is happening now and some patients have died in their homes.”

Jaroush said: “The cardiologist Dr. Mustafa Al-Khatib suffered from COVID-19 yesterday and could not find even a chair in the emergency department. Since yesterday we doctors have been trying to find a place for him so that he can have a blood test and a scan for his lungs. This is our situation.”

On Sunday, it was announced that the Military Hospital in Beirut also exceeded its capacity. The hospital cares for military personnel and their families.

This prompted its management to take 23 rooms in a private hospital that was damaged in the Beirut port explosion last August. The Lebanese Army Works Regiment is working to make it available within days to accommodate cases that need intensive care.

In addition to the lack of capacity, there was also a lack of medical supplies.

Activists on social media circulated calls to secure oxygen bottles that are needed for patients in hospitals that are needed for patients.

The search for hospital beds has caused disputes between the Lebanese Red Cross paramedics and some hospitals.

Georges Kettaneh, Lebanese Red Cross secretary-general, said: “The Red Cross responds to all crises in the country, especially COVID-19, and from the beginning we demanded hospitals to be ready. It was expected that disputes would arise between the Red Cross and some hospitals due to the decision of the Minister of Health in the caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, to receive all cases in hospitals.”

Assem Araji, the head of parliament’s health committee, said: “Despite the sanctions that the Ministry of Health decided to impose on some private hospitals that did not respond to the request to open departments to receive patients, certain hospitals did not comply. We have reached a catastrophic stage that calls for national responsibility.”

Araji expressed his belief that “a complete lockdown for 11 days is not sufficient to limit the spread of the virus. Rather, it should be closed for three weeks, as recommended by the World Health Organization.”

Many well-known figures in Lebanon have died of the coronavirus during the past days.