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Physicians Issue Statement on Israel Gaza Strip Op

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel Statement Regarding Israeli Army operations in Northern Gaza Strip

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has been closely following the recent events in the northern Gaza Strip and is deeply concerned. Many Palestinian civilians, including a large number of children have been injured or killed by the Israeli army (at least 15 children killed), movement has been extremely limited to the point that even patients and medical personnel are unable to reach their destinations, and much damage has been done to homes and other building such as schools. Part of this damage and the injuries and deaths are a result of the army using extreme force and heavy military equipment. The current situation is a significant deterioration of the already unacceptable health conditions that have existed in the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli closure and siege policies of the last several years. Palestinian militants have also attacked Israeli civilians and, for example, 2 children were killed in Sderot last week.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has received reports from local medical teams in the northern Gaza Strip (specifically Beit Lahiya, Jabaliya and Jabaliya refugee camp) that medical services have been paralyzed- this directly threatens the health and lives of the residents, especially chronically ill patients, children and pregnant women. For example, since the start of the operations in the northern section of the strip on 28 September 2004 the Palestinian Authority has stopped supplying vaccinations to the residents since the medical staffs’ lives are at risk. Also, there is only one medical clinic in Beit Hanoun and supplies, such as blood and medicines, are running low. The hundreds of people living in the al-`Awda and a-Nada buildings, on the border of the Nitsanit settlement, have no milk for the children, have no electricity, very little water, some children suffering from asthma have used up their inhalers and do not have more, there are 5 cases of diabetics without insulin, and other critical problems. In addition, the people and especially the children are suffering extreme mental distress due to the military activity being conducted so close to their homes – the tanks are stationed about 100 meters from the residents and the houses are fired upon from the direction of the settlement. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel continues to maintain contact with the residents.

Since the start of the operation patients have been unable to reach the hospitals in Gaza and to leave the Gaza Strip and enter Israel for treatment. Before the Jewish holidays, which began over 2 weeks ago , a bout 50 patients a day, including 15 cancer patients, on average, entered Israel for treatment, although they did encounter difficulties in doing so. Since then these people have been completely unable to exit the Gaza Strip to receive treatment, and the cancer patients’ conditions continue to worsen. The army claims that it opened a “humanitarian route”, however this route is unsafe for ambulance to use and any movement of an ambulance to the route is met with gunfire from the army. The civilian population is not even aware of the existence of such a route. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel is not aware of even one case of an ambulance that successfully used the route.

The Israeli army is responsible for the Palestinian population especially while it conducts military operations in the Occupied Territories, as decreed by the Israeli High Court in response to a petition filed by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and other organizations earlier this year. This responsibility lies on Israel regardless of the actions or statement done or made by the Palestinian Authority. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel offers the Israeli army assistance, if it so desires, in helping coordinate the passage of Palestinian patients to and from treatment and hospitalization.

The Israeli military continues to talk of an open-ended operation that might continue for several more weeks. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel is concerned that the army did not yet set up any means to deal with humanitarian issues, and demands that the army immediately solve this problem so that patients can receive treatment and medical staff can freely do their jobs. Freedom of movement must be granted to patients, ambulances and medical staff as required by International Humanitarian Law, and the Israeli army must also allow for medical centers to restock the basic supplies needed to service the population. The association condemns the continued violence, which is particularly harming the weak such as the ill and children, and calls on both sides to work for an end to the violence and for the international community to help the sides do so.

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