MDA puts flying ambulance on duty

Kerem Shalom crossing opened for aid shipments to Gaza.

mda helicopter 88 (photo credit: )
mda helicopter 88
(photo credit: )
A flying ambulance was put on duty in Kiryat Gat by Magen David Adom and Lahak Air to evacuate Israeli wounded from the Gaza missile attacks, MDA said on Sunday. The initiative received the approval of security forces, who want evacuation services available over a broad area within the range of fire from Gaza. Two MDA paramedics are on round-the-clock call for the helicopter, while the other one in service is based at Poriya Medical Center in Tiberias. The helicopter now at Kiryat Gat had previously been stationed in Yeruham for the evacuation of accident victims, but was withdrawn by Lahak Air due to funding and insurance problems. MDA - whose staffers and volunteers are on highest alert - also has some 200 ambulances and mobile intensive care units in the south to deal with any casualties of rocket and missile attacks. Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri said on a tour of MDA's Ashkelon branch that he found the rescue and first-aid organization well prepared to deal with any eventuality and praised staffers and volunteers for their devotion and professionalism. Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was "extremely concerned" by the mounting number of casualties inside the Gaza Strip. While Israeli civilians have come under constant attack from rockets launched from Gaza that have killed at least one Israeli and wounded several others, the ICRC statement went, Israeli air strikes had resulted in the death of at least 275 people and left more than 950 wounded (according to Palestinian health officials.) "People in Gaza 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 war wounded has put a tremendous strain on Gaza's already overburdened hospitals, which are in dire need of medical equipment. 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 said. "Our first priority is to get more medical supplies to the hospitals right away," added Pierre Wettach, head of the ICRC's delegation in Israel and the territories. "It is therefore essential that this urgent humanitarian assistance is allowed to enter into Gaza." The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) has provided extra staff to hospitals, while workers and volunteers have been helping to evacuate the dead and wounded from damaged or destroyed buildings. The ICRC said it had so far managed to provide medical supplies to two hospitals in Gaza to meet the urgent needs of several hundred war wounded. In response, Israel opened the Kerem Shalom Crossing on Sunday for the delivery of truckloads of food and medical equipment. The aid was donated by UNRWA, the WHO and the Red Cross. The Foreign Ministry is working in coordination with COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) to transfer needed aid to the Gaza Strip, in accordance with instructions from the foreign minister. "It's hoped that five PRCS ambulances will be sent from Jerusalem to Gaza on Monday," the ICRC added. With the Erez Crossing closed, no Gazans are being transferred for treatment to Israeli hospitals. In addition, MDA said Sunday that it had not received any requests from the ICRC for humanitarian assistance as a result of the Israeli attack on Gaza. Michael Rudiak, the ICRC's liaison in eastern Jerusalem between MDA and the PRCS, said that in the "chaos of the moment, there is no possibility of setting priority for seriously ill Gazan civilians who need treatment in Israeli hospitals," but that some were leaving for Egypt. Before the current violence, he said, some 10 Gazans each week had been transported by MDA ambulances to Israeli hospitals for treatment. "Thinking about resumption of such services now is premature," he said. MDA, which possesses a "world-class" fleet of ambulances and excellent know-how, doesn't need ICRC help with Israeli wounded, Rudiak added. "They save lives very efficiently. We will go to Ashkelon soon to understand how they're coping." Dr. Hasan Khalaf, director-general of Gaza's main Shifa Hospital, told The Jerusalem Post by phone that all of his beds were filled. There is room for only 27 people in the hospital's intensive care unit, "and we have limited it to severely hurt people," he said. "Previously admitted patients with conditions that allow them to return home for awhile have been put into cars and advised to come back after the emergency." He added that plenty of blood had been donated to the hospital by local Gazans, and that the Palestinian Authority was preventing medical supplies from reaching Gaza. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel stated Sunday that the IDF must avoid causing civilian injuries and harm to medical facilities in Gaza, allow medical supplies in and allow seriously ill and wounded Palestinians to leave Gaza and come for treatment in Israeli hospitals.