Hamas's takeover of the Palestinian Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip last week may lead to the deaths of Palestinians who require immediate medical care in Israel and Egypt, the United Nations warned on Monday. On March 22, Hamas took control of the PA Health Ministry's Referral Abroad Department, which oversees the process by which Palestinians in Gaza receive approval from the PA to travel to Israel and Egypt for medical treatment. The World Health Organization and the UN humanitarian coordinator said Monday that the PA Health Ministry in Ramallah was refusing to approve and fund applications. As a result, the patients are not allowed to travel to Israeli or Egyptian hospitals. Defense officials said they were aware of the situation and that it was not surprising. "This is another example of the effect Hamas's takeover has on the Palestinian people without any connection to Israel," one official said. "This is a political dispute between the PA in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza, and unfortunately the Palestinian people in Gaza are caught in the middle." Tony Laurance, acting head of WHO in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, warned that patients would die if not allowed out of Gaza. "Around 900 patients a month were being referred outside of Gaza for treatment at hospitals in Israel, east Jerusalem, Egypt and Jordan in the first half of 2008," he said. "Some of the cases are urgent and require immediate treatment. We have already seen referrals affected, and patients will die if they do not receive the treatment they require."