Three infants died in Gaza hospitals over the last 24 hours, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said on Tuesday, and warned more were in imminent danger of the same fate if they weren’t given referrals for treatment outside of the Strip.
The ministry blamed the Palestinian Authority for the deaths, saying Ramallah has refused to grant permits for the babies to be treated in Israel.
To leave Gaza and travel to Israel for medical treatment, or to receive treatment in the West Bank or abroad, Gazans must first get confirmation from the PA that it will pay for the treatments.
The PA pays for nearly all medical treatment of Gazans when they leave the Strip.
The PA is currently carrying out a series of tough measures aimed at forcing Hamas to cede control of the coastal enclave, including reducing the amount of electricity, government salaries and medical aid it provides the Strip.
Gaza Deputy Health Minister Yusuf Abu Rish named the deceased infants as Musab Bilal Ar’aeer, Baraa Ghaben and Ibrahim Tbeil, all of whom were under the age of 1.
All three suffered cardiovascular issues, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Pictures of Ghaben appeared in Palestinian social media.
“There are a number of infants facing the same fate in the coming hours in Shifa Hospital, as well as in al-Nasr Children’s Hospital and al-Rantissi Children’s Hospital,” Abu Rish said.
He added that in total, 11 Gazans have died in the last few months due to the withholding of medical aid from the PA to the Gaza Strip, including five children.
However, the primary spokesperson for the ministry Dr. Ashraf al-Qudra has told other news outlets that nine deaths have occurred due to the PA measures.
The PA is accused by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) of cutting medical aid to Gaza by around 90 percent.
“The behavior of Mahmoud Abbas in stopping the medical transfers for Gaza’s sick, which has led to the martyrdom of a number of children, constitutes crimes against humanity,” said senior Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zurhi in a statement over Twitter.
“We call for a greater humanitarian movement to save Gaza and stop the Abbas-Netanyahu scheme to strangle Gaza,” he added, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The PA has denied changing its policy in regards to Gaza medical care.
However, the Gaza Heath Ministry and international medical rights groups in Gaza say the PA has significantly decreased aid sent to the Strip as well as medical referrals.
Over 1,600 Gazan patients are waiting for referrals from the PA as of June 25, according to PHRI.
PHRI spokesperson Dana Moss said in 2016, the average number of requests approved by the PA per month was 2041. In May and June of 2017, she said, the PA was granting just 10 referrals a day, with the average number of requests being 120.
Gazan patients, she said, “are held hostage to political infighting.”
Moss, however, also said Israel was partly responsible for the crisis in Gaza because of the crippling effect its 10-year long blockade has had on the Strip’s medical infrastructure.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip, which Jerusalem says is needed to keep out weaponry and materials that could be used for terror activity or in fighting against Israel. The border authority allows in humanitarian goods and also gives some Gazans permits to enter Israel for medical care.
According to Moss, due to the blockade, Gaza medical doctors are not able to travel abroad to learn necessary surgeries. She also said Israel prevents essential equipment, such a radiation machines for cancer patients, from entering the Strip, which creates a context in which many Gazans must travel abroad to receive treatment.
“Israel is the country with effective control over the Gaza Strip. It is responsible for the patients and their right to healthcare,” she said.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry Branch that deals with Palestinian Civilian Affairs, said in a statement to The Times of Israel that Israel works in the background “to promote civil policies in order to assist the residents of Gaza.”
This is despite the fact, COGAT said, that Hamas “continuously attempts to take advantage of the civil steps promoted by Israel,” including abusing the permits given to Gazans “to transfer terror funds, weapons, instructions and intelligence to perform terror attacks in Israel.”
In April, the Shin Bet security service said it caught two sisters, one of whom is a cancer sufferer, attempting to sneak explosives from the Strip into Israel, disguising it in medicine.
According to COGAT, in 2016, 30,768 crossings were coordinated from the Gaza Strip into Israel for medical attention. In 2017, so far, 13,530 crossings have been coordinated from the Gaza Strip into Israel for medical attention, and thus far in June that number is 732.
However, the World Health Organization said during March and April, more than 42% of the permits to enter Israel were either delayed or denied.