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Israel prevents cancer patients from leaving Gaza for treatment in Jerusalem

Tahani al-Rifi, a 34-year-old Palestinian thyroid cancer patient, leaves the Central Blood Bank laboratory in Gaza City on February 1, 2021 [MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images]
Tahani al-Rifi, a 34-year-old Palestinian thyroid cancer patient, leaves the Central Blood Bank laboratory in Gaza City on February 1, 2021 [MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel has prevented cancer patients who urgently need to leave the Gaza Strip for treatment since the start of the latest military offensive on the besieged enclave. Crossings with Gaza have been closed since 10 May, especially Eretz Crossing, which is used by pedestrians rather than goods.

The Washington Post has reported that doctors, families and human rights advocates are urging the Israeli authorities to reopen the border crossings for medical cases, at least, before the most vulnerable patients become critically ill and die. Israel said last week that Gaza patients with exit permits would be allowed to cross Eretz Crossing for treatment, adding that it will also allow humanitarian teams, medical equipment, food and fuel to enter the coastal territory.

However, Israeli, Palestinian and international rights groups have reported complaints from Palestinian patients that they are not allowed to pass through the Israeli-controlled crossing.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Hussein Najjar, a fisherman from southern Gaza, said that his 61-year-old mother has grown weak and depressed since missing her regular chemotherapy treatment in East Jerusalem's Augusta Victoria Hospital. She is suffering from colorectal and lung cancer.

"Even if we get an appointment today, we don't know when the crossing will be open and she will be able to go," said Najjar. "She's looking for a way to survive, and we can't find it."

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The family's situation was made more difficult after Najjar's boat was destroyed along with several others when an Israeli missile struck their harbour during the bombardment. They survive on a donation of about $50 a month from Oxfam International.

Gaza's impoverished healthcare system cannot provide many of the treatments needed by those with the most serious conditions, reported the US newspaper. There are no radiation treatment facilities in Gaza, for example, leaving cancer patients to seek that and other basic treatment in hospitals outside the enclave.

Doctors Without Borders, along with Israeli rights groups Maslak, Adalah and the Centre for the Defence of Individuals (HaMoked) said that they have addressed this issue to the Israeli authorities with regard to reopening the Eretz Crossing. They pointed out on Monday that they had received no response from the Israelis.

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