Israel denies WHO claim of PA health crisis

There is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in Paris Wednesday, even as the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement warning of a collapse of the Palestinian Authority health system. Olmert supported his statement by pointing out that the PA was not interested in some NIS 50 million in drugs and medical supplies Israel had agreed to transfer to it. The cabinet decided last month to take NIS 50m. of the tax and customs revenue Israel had not transferred to the PA since Hamas came in to power and use it to buy medicine and supplies that would be transferred to the the PA through the WHO. Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, said Israel had asked the WHO to approach the PA to get a list of medicines and supplies, but the PA refused, saying it wanted the money instead. Israel has since asked other international players to get involved to get a list and has requested that WHO ask the PA a second time for a list of medicine and supplies. A senior official in the PA Health Ministry confirmed that the PA refused to supply a list, saying that Israel does not have the right to use PA money according to its own wishes. "This is our money and we will decide what to do with it, not Israel," he said. Dror said the fact that the PA was not willing to take the supplies shows either that there is no health crisis or that there are elements inside the PA which want to create a crisis to serve their own interests. The WHO statement, however, said that the health system in the PA is facing a severe financial crisis caused by the halt of funding from the international community and Israel's decision to stop the transfer of the tax and customs revenue. "Immediate emergency action is needed to prevent the outbreak of a humanitarian crisis in the health field," the statement read. The WHO said that as a result of the financial crunch, health workers have not been paid since March and their absenteeism from work is on the rise. In addition, the statement said that vital medicines are beginning to run out in the various communities and in hospitals. The issue of paying salaries to the health workers came up during talks Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held earlier this week with her EU colleagues during two days of meetings in Luxembourg. The EU is in the process of developing a "funding mechanism" whereby aid could be pumped into the PA without propping up Hamas. Diplomatic officials said that while Israel and the Europeans agree that aid should be sent to the PA in a way that would not benefit Hamas, there is disagreement as to how this should be done. Israel, according to senior diplomatic officials, is opposed to paying salaries, arguing that money is fungible and if the salaries were paid by an outside source, Hamas would use the available funds at its disposal for terrorist activities rather than paying the salaries. One idea that was raised in Luxembourg, but which is still very much in the preliminary stages, would be for the funding mechanism to give money directly to hardship cases and to certain organizations inside the PA after a commitment is signed not to take part in or support terrorist activities. Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.