Officials deny Israel prevented sick newborn babies from leaving Gaza

Two newborn babies died on Monday and Tuesday at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza, yet 'No request was received from the Palestinian Authority' to arrange their treatment in Israel

babies 298 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
babies 298 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials on Wednesday denied a PA Health Ministry official’s claim that Israel barred newborn babies from receiving urgent medical care outside of the Gaza Strip.
Musab Ar’aeer and Bara Ghaban, who were born with heart defects, died on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The newborn babies needed life-saving heart surgeries at a hospital outside of Gaza, Alam Abu Hamda, Shifa’s neo-natal care director, said.
Bassam al-Badri, a Palestinian Authority Health Ministry official in charge of coordinating medical referrals outside of Gaza, claimed on Tuesday that Israel denied exit permits to the babies’ guardians, blocking the babies from leaving the Strip.
“The occupation refused on a security pretext,” Badri told Wafa, the official PA website.
However, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit, a branch of the Defense Ministry, denied Badri’s claim, saying it did not receive permit requests for Ar’aeer or Ghaban.
“No request was received from the Palestinian Authority to coordinate medical treatment in Israel for the infants,” COGAT said in an email statement.
A PA Civil Affairs Ministry official also denied Badri’s claim.
“We received no permit requests for Ar’aeer or Ghaban,” the official said. “I saw Bassam’s statement. I don’t know what he was thinking, but what he said is not true.”
The Civil Affairs Ministry is responsible for requesting exit permits for sick Gazans from Israel.
Abu Hamda said he and the babies’ families sent urgent referral requests to the PA Health Ministry a week before the babies died, but never received a response.
Urgent referral requests usually take no more than 48 hours to approve. In some cases, they are approved within hours.
According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the PA Health Ministry has been reducing the number of referrals it approves. The NGO’s international advocacy coordinator Dana Moss said that in May and June, the ministry approved approximately 10 referrals daily. She added that it approved an average of over 2,040 referrals monthly in 2016.
Over the past two months, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has been implementing a series of measures designed to pressure Hamas to give up control of the Gaza Strip. He has slashed Gaza-based PA employees’ salaries, reduced the amount of Israeli electricity supplied to the area (by paying for less) and cut medical budgets. He has defended the policy, saying it is targeted at ending the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“We seek to unify our land and our people, and any measures we take are in fact aimed at ending this division, which has harmed our national cause,” Abbas told a Japanese newspaper in early June.
In official statements, Hamas has described Abbas’s moves as “arbitrary” and “dangerous.”