Doctors stuck at bottleneck on Egypt-Gaza border

Egyptian authorities deny them entry into war-torn Gaza.

By
January 6, 2009 11:53
3 minute read.
Doctors stuck at bottleneck on Egypt-Gaza border

wounded Gazan child 248 88 gpo. (photo credit: GPO)

 
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Frustration is mounting at Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip, where many local and foreign doctors are stuck after Egyptian authorities denied them entry into the coastal area now under an Israeli ground invasion. Anesthesiologist Dimitrios Mognie from Greece idles his time at a cafe near the border, drinking tea and chatting with other doctors, aid workers and curious Egyptians. "This is a shame," said Mognie, who decided to use his vacation time to try help Gazans. He thought entering through Egypt, which has a narrow border with the Hamas-ruled strip, was his best bet. "That in 2009 they have people in need of help from a doctor and we can go to help and they won't let us. This is crazy," he added. Gaza's few hospitals have been swamped by the numbers of injured; health officials there reported more than 550 Palestinians dead and 2,500 wounded, including 200 civilians, since Israel embarked upon its military campaign designed to stop Gaza's Islamic Hamas from launching rockets at Israel on December 27. Mognie and a colleague, both part of the Greek organization Doctors for Peace, came to Rafah four days ago, loaded with instruments and medical supplies. Egyptian border guards turn them back daily. Mognie, who said he has worked in conflict zones such as Iraq, Angola and Somalia, added that he understood worries over security but that he was willing to take the risk to help the people in Gaza. Along with Israel, Egypt has maintained the closure of the Gaza border, imposed after Hamas took control of the area in June 2007. However, the Egyptian closure has been seen by some as abetting Israel's siege of the crowded strip, home to 1.4 million people. Since Israel's offensive, Egypt has taken in a trickle of wounded Palestinians from Gaza through the crossing in the border town of Rafah. Cairo, the main mediator between Israel and Hamas, has said it would only open Rafah if moderate Palestinian forces of President Mahmoud Abbas are in charge of the crossing. Calls to Egypt to ease the border bottleneck - where aid convoys first have to have their cargo unloaded from Egyptian trucks before it's loaded onto Palestinian ones and taken into the strip - have increased, including from Hamas allies such as Iran. Although Egypt allowed two Norwegian doctors into Gaza on Dec. 31, the majority of physicians are frustrated at their inability to get in. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said Monday the his government submitted a formal request to Egypt to set up a desert hospital on Egyptian territory near the Gaza Strip to receive wounded Gazans. Palestinian doctor Abed el-Qader Lubbad, who works in the intensive care at Shifa Hospital in Gaza, arrived in one of the ambulances transporting patients to Egypt on Monday. Out of the eight patients he ferried, one seriously wounded died on the way to the border, Lubbad said. The Palestinian ambulances are not allowed to continue driving through Egypt. At the crossing, patients are taken out of the often poorly equipped Palestinian ambulances and transferred on gurneys to Egyptian ambulances. On Monday, at least 18 Palestinian patients were brought to Egypt, according to Mohammad Arafat, a Palestinian representative in Rafah. The wounded included a man missing both legs and another who lost his eye and fractured his skull. Another physician at Rafah was obstetrician Jemilah Mahmood from Mercy Malaysia. She said her group worked with the Egyptian Red Crescent to bring around $100,000 worth of medical supplies to the border for transport to Gaza. And while equipment eventually got through, Mahmoud said neither she nor her colleagues are allowed to cross. "Can you imagine how many women are hurt and how few women doctors there are?" she said. "All of us are sitting at the border."

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