Sunday, February 18, 2007

More Palestinians entering (HUMANE/HUMANITARIAN) Israel on health grounds

More Palestinians entering (HUMANE/HUMANITARIAN) Israel on health grounds

ISRAEL-OPT: More Palestinians entering Israel on health grounds 90% of applicants granted permits when reason is medical

ISRAEL-OPT: More Palestinians entering Israel on health grounds BEIT EL/TEL AVIV, 15 February 2007 (IRIN - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ) - More and more Palestinians are gaining permission to enter Israel and East Jerusalem for medical reasons - one of the few ways they can still obtain a permit.

Behind an oversized desk, Dalia Bessa, the Health Coordinator for the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, answers her numerous phones in Hebrew, English and Arabic. One woman needs a permit to go to Jerusalem for cancer treatment; on another line, a report comes in about a car accident near Nablus. A moment later a Palestinian director of an East Jerusalem hospital files his request.

"We got 81,000 Palestinians permits to enter Israel for health reasons in 2006, a rise of 61 percent from 2005," Bessa says from her office in Beit El, near Ramallah. Without those permits, no hospital will grant entry to a Palestinian patient.

She believes the increase is due to the Israeli security barrier, which limits Palestinians' movements, and a strike in the medical sector. She expects even more Palestinians to require permits in 2007.

While fewer and fewer Palestinians from the West Bank, and none from Gaza, are able to enter Israel to work - a situation unlikely to change - Bessa says 90 percent of applicants are granted permits when the reason is medical.

Aid blocked

Karni Crossing, the main commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip, is frequently closed by Israel due to intelligence alleging imminent attacks.

The Israeli human rights organisation Gisha has filed a High Court petition demanding that Karni be open longer so that aid can get through to Gaza. A hearing is set for the end of February.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) owes more than US$1 million in penalty fees to storage companies at the Ashdod Port in southern Israel, since it is unable to transfer containers in and out of the Gaza Strip quickly enough. This is wasted aid money, UNRWA officials say.

Shlomo Dror, a spokesman at the Israeli Ministry of Defence, says that without the international aid organisations there would be a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian areas. "We don't want a crisis like that," Dror emphasised. "But, if one did emerge, we would have to go in [to the Palestinian areas] and help. But we want the Palestinian Authority to take responsibility, not us."

Gabi Ashkenazi replaced Dan Halutz on Wednesday as the Israeli Chief-of-Staff but the coordination branches are expected to remain the same. However, work with the Palestinian side may improve if the Palestinians establish a unity government, as the military will not deal with Hamas.

Major Peter Lerner, in charge of humanitarian coordination in the Gaza Strip, explains that the army has implemented changes. "Before 2003, we had three people doing this. Now 21 people coordinate humanitarian affairs in the Palestinian areas," he says, "leading to better services and operations."

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