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US Freeze on Medical Aid Takes its Toll
Published on Wednesday, May 10, 2006 by the Telegraph / UK
US Freeze on Medical Aid Takes its Toll
by Tim Butcher

The United States has stopped providing medical supplies to Palestinian hospitals as part of Washington's sanctions against Hamas.

Abdullah Nahal is a dialysis patient at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which is facing a shortage of supplies. (Photo: Telegraph / UK)
The decision is believed to be dramatically lowering the standard of health care in Gaza and the West Bank where patients are going untreated because of a lack of essential medical supplies.

Three leading British charities have urged the US to reinstate aid to essential Palestinian government services such as hospitals.

America continues to supply drugs to aid groups to distribute through private clinics and Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, last night announced that 5.3 million would be made available for distribution in this way.

Her announcement was seen as an attempt to divert criticism away from America's unpublicised decision to suspend a large, multi-million pound programme to supply government hospitals run by the Palestinian Authority.

Around 80 per cent of Palestinians rely on government hospitals for their health needs. America, along with Europe, regards the PA as a terrorist group now that is controlled by Hamas and has banned contacts with PA-run hospitals.

America used to pay for large amounts of medicines, medical supplies and medical spare parts to be donated through Care International, the aid group, to government hospitals.

"We are not working directly with any PA government entities right now,'' Michelle Blumhagen, local spokesman for USAID, the American government's foreign aid wing, said.

The American decision is believed to be partly responsible for the acute shortage currently being reported at government hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza. Treatments for kidney failure and cancer are being cut back because of the shortage of supplies.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a lobby group, said that four elderly patients have died in the Shifa hospital in Gaza as a result of the reduction in dialysis treatments from three per week to two.

There is growing frustration in the aid community in the occupied territories that economic sanctions against Hamas are in danger of causing a humanitarian disaster that will take years and cost billions to put right.

Oxfam, Christian Aid and Save The Children UK have written a joint letter petitioning the Quartet of major powers, who met yesterday to discuss the Middle East situation, to rethink the sanctions regime imposed after Hamas swept to power in January.

America and Europe, two of the members of the Quartet alongside Russia and the United Nations, withdrew funding to the PA to try to pressurise Hamas into dropping its militant anti-Israel stance.

As the US and EU provided the bulk of the PA's monthly revenue, the loss of funds had an immediate impact across the full range of PA government activity, including schools and hospitals.

The loss of revenue accentuated an already existing problem caused by Israel's security clampdown on the territories which limits the movement of Palestinian people and goods.

The three aid groups yesterday appealed to the Quartet to reinstate funding for the essential machinery of government in the Palestinian territories.

Adam Leach, Oxfam's Regional Director, said the PA machinery was being seriously harmed by the withdrawal of monthly funding and the effect of public employees going without monthly pay was having a negative effect.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2006


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