Israel has denied a group of Israeli medical volunteers entry into the Gaza Strip, affecting the group’s ability to reach patients in the beleaguered enclave, an official told IRIN.
"We had 350 patients waiting for us in Gaza," said Salah Haj Yihye, the mobile clinic coordinator with the medical delegation from the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel), a non-governmental organisation. They had planned to spend 8-10 October in the enclave.
The eight-member team was granted a permit on 6 October, but only when they arrived at the Erez Crossing to Gaza two days later were they informed that the permit had been "frozen".
Some of the patients, anticipating surgery, had already prepared themselves and many were fasting when they found out that the doctors would not be coming, causing distress.
Yihye said the work was coordinated with local health officials, including the ministry of health in Gaza, which is headed by a Hamas minister.
PHR-Israel had arranged for four orthopaedic physicians, an oncologist, a specialist surgeon and two psychologists to visit the enclave.
Some members of the mission were planning on conducting surgical operations in the enclave, others were set to give training.
"The two psychologists were going to train Gazans on trauma and post-traumatic treatment," Yihye said, noting the need for this knowledge in the territory, which has seen a lot of violence.
The Gaza Strip lacks medical specialists in certain fields, including psychology and certain orthopaedic specialist areas, and all the doctors were chosen for their specific expertise.
Yihye was worried he would not be able to organise the volunteer doctors again. He had hoped to take advantage of the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, when Israel comes to an almost complete standstill and the medics were on leave from work.
Although all the volunteers were members of the Palestinian minority in Israel (which make up 20 percent of the country’s population) and do not observe Jewish holidays, they work at mainstream Israeli institutions which take two days off to observe the holiest time in the Hebrew calendar.
Jewish members of PHR are denied entry to Gaza, due to security concerns, an Israeli security official said.
Capt Eli Isaacson from the Israeli military’s spokesperson unit, told IRIN the mission’s denial was only "temporary", due to a "specific security concern". He hoped things would change soon and the mission would be granted permission to enter, citing Israel’s interest in keeping humanitarian aid flowing to Gaza.
This would have been the Israeli group’s 10th mission to Gaza since the start of the year. They said their medics have seen hundreds of patients so far and want to treat as many as possible.
(IRIN News – www.irinnews.org)