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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 June 30; 334(7608): 1342.
PMCID: PMC1906608

Human rights groups plead for protection for hospital patients in Gaza

Human rights organisations in Israel are sounding the alarm about the difficult humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, which is endangering lives of people in hospitals.

They have called on the Israeli government to fulfil its obligations and open Gaza's borders to the outside world and on the Palestinian factions to end killings near and inside hospitals in the area.

About 120 people have been killed and hundreds more injured as a result of the violent confrontations between the Hamas and Fatah factions in the Gaza Strip. Some of the fighting has taken place inside Gaza City and in the vicinity of hospitals.

Witnesses have said that some injured people coming for hospital treatment have been shot by Hamas militants inside hospitals.

A joint position paper issued by several of the humanitarian organisations states that the collapse of civil infrastructure as a result of the economic boycott and extended siege of the Palestinian Authority has made it impossible for rescue personnel to operate effectively.

Ibrahim Habib, field coordinator for the occupied territories at Physicians for Human Rights Israel, said, “The first victims are those injured in the fighting who the Gazan hospitals are unable to treat properly.

“In addition, there are hundreds of people waiting for medical treatment in Egypt or Jordan, as well as people (some of whom are trapped at the Erez border crossing) who are in urgent need of additional, lifesaving medical care in Israel.”

Gaza's health system depends completely on that of Israel and is unable to provide for all of the needs of its population. The Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Health says that more than 40 patients are in urgent need of medical treatment in Israel.

Last week Physicians for Human Rights and the Gisha Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement, which is based in Tel Aviv, appealed to Israel's defence minister, demanding that permission be given for the most critically ill patients to enter Israel for lifesaving treatment. They also submitted a petition to Israel's High Court on the issue.

In response to the petition, the defence minister, Ehud Barak, directed the Israel Defense Forces to allow the immediate treatment of refugees at the Erez crossing, calling it a goodwill measure and a humanitarian gesture.

So far, however, no mechanism has been established to transfer the patients, and many of them are still in the Gaza Strip.

Juma Saka, a doctor in Shifa Hospital, Gaza's main hospital, said: “A severe shortage of consumable medical equipment is developing: anaesthesia equipment, hypodermic needles, and metal plates for organ implants.

“The equipment shortages affect our ability to provide vital treatment. We have decided to postpone non-critical medical procedures. The hospital is operating beyond 120% capacity. The medical staff are suffering from fear and terror, particularly of the Hamas fighters, who are in every corner of the hospital.”

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