(photo credit: )
There must be an immediate move to fortify Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar said Monday, calling on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri to come up with a solution.
As The Jerusalem Post reported a few days ago, the hospital - exposed to rocket and missile file from Gaza - has the funds to build an underground emergency room and surgical theater, but the project is on hold because haredi activists oppose the excavation and relocation of Byzantine-era bones discovered on the hospital's campus.
As a result, a few underground storerooms have been turned into fortified areas for urgent treatment.
Dr. Ron Lobel, the hospital's deputy director, said that Barzilai had the $40 million needed to carry out the project, but had been unable since January to recommence work after a preliminary dig because of protests by the Atra Kadisha organization, a haredi group dedicated to preserving Jewish grave sites.
The group has managed to get work at several construction sites suspended in the past.
The hospital administration has spent months asking for help from the prime minister, the health minister, the chief rabbis, prominent haredi rabbis and others, but to no avail. Now that Barzilai is a target, the need to start construction has become more urgent.
Blachar said it was the Religious Affairs Ministry that was now preventing the bones from being moved, after being pressured by Atra Kadisha. The delay may cause the $40 million in donations to disappear, the hospital insists.
The IMA called on Olmert and Ben-Yizri to find a solution to the "absurd situation" so that endangered residents and staffers could be protected.
Meanwhile, Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot has started to admit sick children and women about to give birth, who would otherwise have gone to the beleaguered Barzilai. Some of the women have high-risk pregnancies.
Maya Sa'ad, who was hospitalized in the Ashkelon facility for supervision of her high-risk pregnancy, was told she would be moved to Rehovot.
"We sent our kids to my sister in Tel Aviv and took a taxi to Kaplan," where she had to undergo all the tests again. But she is on the phone constantly to hear from her husband and children in Ashkelon.
The Rehovot hospital has also admitted Ashdod residents suffering from anxiety attacks.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Monday that it was "extremely concerned by the mounting number of casualties inside the Gaza Strip," where "people are very afraid to go into the streets, which are virtually empty. The hospitals are overwhelmed and unable to cope with the scale and type of injuries that keep coming in," said Marianne Robyn Whittington, an ICRC health delegate in Gaza.
The influx of wounded has put a tremendous strain on Gaza's already overburdened hospitals, which are in dire need of medical equipment, said the ICRC.
"Their stocks of supplies and medicines were already severely depleted due to the difficulty in bringing medical items into the Strip in recent months. The ICRC is trying to get more medical supplies to the hospitals right away," said Pierre Wettach, head of its delegation in Israel and the territories.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) has provided extra staffers to hospitals, while workers and volunteers have been helping to evacuate the dead and wounded from damaged or destroyed buildings. Five PRCS ambulances were sent from Jerusalem to Gaza on Monday.
Since last Thursday, the Palestinian Authority has asked the Israeli authorities to allow 21 Gaza patients to enter for medical care at Israeli or West Bank hospitals, the ICRC said.
"Only six were allowed to exit before the air strike, as the Erez crossing has been closed for patient referrals since then and no patients have been referred through Rafah," the group said.