Israel plans to limit helium supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip, a move which would restrict vital supplies to hospitals.
The decision was taken today by Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Major General Kamil Abu Rokon. Israel's Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, approved the decision.
COGAT did not specify how much helium would be allowed to enter Gaza under the new restrictions, but warned that Israel could cut off the supply of helium entirely.
Helium gas is used for a range of medical purposes and equipment, including MRI machines. Hospitals in Gaza regularly suffer adverse conditions, a lack of resources and power outages due to daily restrictions on electricity as a result of Israel's siege. In January 2018, generators at seven health centres in the Strip stopped working due to the shortage in fuel.
Hospitals in Gaza have come under additional strain in recent months, as thousands of victims of the Great March of Return flooded the wards. Gaza City's Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest of 13 medical facilities in the besieged Strip, ordered field tents to be put up in the hospital courtyard to tend to the casualties, according to Reuters.
Israel claims the move to limit helium supplies to Gaza was influenced by the use of the gas to fly incendiary balloons and kites into southern Israel. Last week, Israel ordered $1.4 million worth of funds to be withheld from the Palestinian Authority (PA) as compensation for damage reportedly caused by these kites. The Israeli government declared anyone whose fields had been damaged "terrorism victims entitled to compensation".
Following the order, Israel's Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, said that Palestinians who launch kites from Gaza should be assassinated. Erdan told his audience in Sderot, an Israeli town close to the border with Gaza, that "we need to return to preventative assassinations. Those who send the kites and Hamas commanders must be a target for preventative killings."
Over the course of the Great March of Return, medical staff have been targeted by Israeli live fire. On 2 June, 21-year-old volunteer medic Razan Al-Najar was shot dead while trying to help injured protesters. Al-Najar was wearing a white uniform at the time, with witnesses telling Reuters "she raised her hands high in a clear way, but Israeli soldiers fired and she was hit in the chest." The Israeli army subsequently began a smear campaign against Al-Najar in an attempt to discredit her work.