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Gaza parents struggle to join kids for treatment in Israel

JERUSALEM: When Palestinian preschooler Aisha a-Lulu came out of brain surgery in a strange Jerusalem hospital room, she called out for her mother and father. She repeated the cry over and over, but her parents never came.Instead of a family member, Israeli authorities had approved a stranger to escort Aisha from the blockaded Gaza Strip…

Gaza parents struggle to join kids for treatment in Israel

JERUSALEM: When Palestinian preschooler Aisha a-Lulu came out of brain surgery in a strange Jerusalem hospital room, she called out for her mother and father. She repeated the cry over and over, but her parents never came.Instead of a family member, Israeli authorities had approved a stranger to escort Aisha from the blockaded Gaza Strip to the east Jerusalem hospital. As her condition deteriorated, the child was returned to Gaza unconscious. One week later, she was dead.A photo of Aisha smiling softly in her hospital bed, brown curls swaddled in bandages, drew an outpouring on social media. The wrenching details of her last days have shined a light on Israel’s vastly complex and stringent system for issuing Gaza exit permits.It is a bureaucracy that has Israeli and Palestinian authorities blaming each other for its shortfalls, while inflicting a heavy toll on Gaza’s sick children and their parents.“The most difficult thing is to leave your child in the unknown,” said Waseem a-Lulu, Aisha’s father. “Jerusalem is just an hour away, but it feels as though it is another planet.”So far this year, roughly half of applications for patient companion permits were rejected or left unanswered by Israel, according to the World Health Organization. That has forced over 600 patients, including some dozen children under 18, to make the trek out of the territory alone or without close family by their side.The system stems from the Hamas militant group’s takeover of Gaza in 2007, when it violently ousted the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. Israel and Egypt responded by imposing a blockade that tightly restricted movement in and out of Gaza.The blockade, which Israel says is necessary to prevent Hamas from arming, has precipitated a financial and humanitarian crisis in the enclave. For years, Gaza’s 2 million residents have endured rising poverty and unemployment, undrinkable groundwater and frequent electricity outages. Public hospitals wrestle with chronic shortages of drugs and basic medical equipment. Israel blames Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, for the crisis.In what it portrays as a humanitarian gesture to help Gaza’s civilians, Israel permits Palestinian patients to seek medical treatment at hospitals in Israel and the West Bank once they pass a series of bureaucratic hurdles. COGAT, the Israeli defense body that issues the permits, says it insists that all patients cross with an escort, usually a close relative, unless they wish to go alone or require immediate treatment that doesn’t allow time for security screening.In order to get a permit, patients must first submit a diagnosis to the West Bank-based Palestinian Health Ministry, proving that their treatment isn’t available in Gaza. Then a Palestinian liaison requests exit permits from COGAT, which reviews the applications and passes them to Israel’s Shin Bet security agency for background checks.According to WHO, the approval rate has plummeted in recent years.It said that in 2012, Israel allowed in 93 percent of patients and 83 percent of their companions for treatment. For the month of April 2019, the figure stands at just 65 percent of patients and 52 percent of their companions.A COGAT official disputed the figures, saying they don’t take into account that the number of permit applications has grown as Gaza’s health care system deteriorates, and that Israel has started issuing permits less regularly but for prolonged stays. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity under agency rules, said COGAT is working to ease restrictions by designating a permit specifically for parents of child patients.After being diagnosed with brain cancer, Aisha received immediate approval to get out of Gaza for what was hoped to be life-saving surgery. But when her parents approached the Palestinian Civil Affairs Commission for escort permits, their process ground to a halt.To their bewilderment, Palestinian officials told them not to apply, saying it was too risky.At 37, Waseem is below the age that Israel deems acceptable for swift entry on security grounds. Today, all men under 55 require extra screening, which means waiting, usually for months, according to Mor Efrat, the Gaza and West Bank director for Physicians for Human Rights Israel. As for Aisha’s mother, Muna, a quirk of her upbringing in Egypt left her without an official Israeli-issued ID card required to receive a permit.“We tell families to find a companion that won’t give Israel any reason to refuse,” said Osama Najar, spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry. “We want to save the child and, yes, that can mean sending them alone.”In this sense, the Palestinian Authority “acts as a subcontractor for Israel,” said Efrat, forcing parents to make a difficult choice: delay their child’s urgent care, or search for someone else that Israel would be more likely to let cross.Aisha’s parents said they scoured for alternatives, applying for an aunt and her 75-year-old grandmother, but Israel rejected both.The girl’s only remaining hope, the Palestinian office told them, was to apply for as many older women as possible from their extended social network. A permit for Halima Al-Ades, a remote family acquaintance whom Aisha had never met, was approved.Muna said she had no choice but to sign COGAT’s consent form and whisk her daughter out of Gaza for immediate treatment. She said the frustration of the sprawling bureaucracy, and the painful memory of her 5-year-old daughter crying for her on the phone during her last days, haunts her.“It was the hardest time of my life,” she said. “My heart was being ripped out every day and every hour.”Aisha’s doctor in Jerusalem, Ahmad Khandaqji, said he has treated countless lone patients from Gaza over the past year, but that Aisha’s story stuck with him. “She felt abandoned and betrayed,” he said. “We saw how that directly impacted her recovery.”

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Sudan’s ex-president Bashir arrives at corruption trial

ST. PAUL, Minnesota: Democratic US Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan plan to host a news conference Monday afternoon on travel restrictions to Israel and Palestine, after they were denied entry into Israel last week.At the urging of President Donald Trump, Israel denied entry to the two Muslim representatives over their…

Sudan’s ex-president Bashir arrives at corruption trial

ST. PAUL, Minnesota: Democratic US Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan plan to host a news conference Monday afternoon on travel restrictions to Israel and Palestine, after they were denied entry into Israel last week.At the urging of President Donald Trump, Israel denied entry to the two Muslim representatives over their support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement. Tlaib and Omar, who had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on a tour organized by a Palestinian group, are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and support the Palestinian-led international movement boycotting Israel.Before Israel’s decision, Trump tweeted it would be a “show of weakness” to allow the two representatives in. Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 Mideast war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories the Palestinians want for a future state.Trump’s request to a foreign country to bar the entry of elected US officials — and Israel’s decision to do so — were unprecedented and drew widespread criticism, including from many Israelis as well as staunch supporters of Israel in Congress. Critics said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision was a reckless gamble and risked turning Israel into a partisan issue and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies.Tlaib and Omar are known as supporters of “boycott, divestment and sanctions,” or BDS, a Palestinian-led global movement. Supporters say the movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel’s military rule over the occupied territories.Last week, Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Tlaib had requested and been granted permission to enter the West Bank to see her aging grandmother. Deri’s office released a letter that it said was from Tlaib , which promised to respect travel restrictions during her visit. But after the announcement, Tlaib tweeted she wouldn’t allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to “bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.”The two congresswomen are part of the “squad” of liberal newcomers — all women of color — whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for re-election. He subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries. They are US citizens.

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Iran says it has warned US against seizing oil tanker

DUBAI: An Iranian tanker sailed through the Mediterranean toward Greece on Monday after it was released from detention off Gibraltar, and Tehran said that any US move to seize the vessel again would have “heavy consequences.”The Grace 1, renamed the Adrian Darya 1, left anchorage off Gibraltar about 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Sunday. Refinitiv…

Iran says it has warned US against seizing oil tanker

DUBAI: An Iranian tanker sailed through the Mediterranean toward Greece on Monday after it was released from detention off Gibraltar, and Tehran said that any US move to seize the vessel again would have “heavy consequences.”The Grace 1, renamed the Adrian Darya 1, left anchorage off Gibraltar about 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Sunday. Refinitiv ship tracking data showed on Monday that the vessel was heading to Kalamata in Greece and was scheduled to arrive next Sunday at 0000 GMT.The seizure of the tanker by British Royal Marines near Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions led to a weeks-long stand-off between Tehran and the West. It also heightened tensions on international oil shipping routes through the Gulf.Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, lifted the detention order on Thursday but the next day a federal court in Washington issued a warrant for the seizure of the tanker, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million.

Gibraltar said on Sunday it could not comply with that request because it was bound by EU law. Washington wanted to detain the tanker on the grounds that it had links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it has designated a terrorist organization.“We are happy this ordeal has ended and I hope this will lead to less escalation,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said while visiting Finland.He also said the US warrant had no legal basis and was politically motivated to “make more escalation.”Greek authorities had no immediate comment on the situation.Iran said on Monday any US attempt to seize the tanker would have “heavy consequences.”

The Grace 1, renamed the Adrian Darya 1, left anchorage off Gibraltar on Sunday evening. (Reuters)

Asked whether the United States could renew its seizure request after the tanker sailed from Gibraltar, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “Such an action, and even the talk of it … would endanger shipping safety in open seas.”“Iran has issued the necessary warnings through official channels, especially the Swiss embassy, to American officials not to commit such an error because it would have heavy consequences,” Mousavi said in remarks broadcast on state television.Switzerland represents US interests in Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States.The Adrian Darya 1, which was re-flagged to Iran after being de-listed by Panama on May 29, was fully laden and carrying about 2 million barrels of oil, Refinitiv data showed. The cargo was valued at tens of millions of dollars.US President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in May last year, while the European Union is still part of the accord, which allows Tehran to sell its oil.

The tanker was seized by British Royal Marines near Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of carrying oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. (Reuters)

Washington wants to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero and has re-imposed US sanctions which place heavy penalties on any breaches even for non-US citizens and companies, including asset freezes and being cut off from the US financial system.While EU regulations still allow for companies and citizens in the bloc to trade with Iran, falling foul of US sanctions has meant most banks are unwilling to process even authorized transactions such as for food and medicine, finance sources say.This is likely to be the first major foreign policy challenge for Greece’s new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis since he took office in July if the vessel enters Greek territorial waters.Zarif said Iran could not reveal where the oil would go.“Because of US sanctions we cannot be very transparent with the destination,” he said.A spokesperson for the Greek coast guard said they had no formal information the vessel is heading to Kalamata and are monitoring the matter.

A crew member takes pictures with a mobile phone on Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1. (Reuters)

TANKER HELD BY IRANSeparately, a senior Iranian lawmaker said a crisis in Iran’s ties with Britain, which included Tehran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker last month, would not be over until the tanker reached its destination.Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on July 19 seized the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for alleged marine violations, two weeks after the Grace 1 was commandeered.“Until the Iranian oil tanker arrives at its destination the British must help end the crisis,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee, was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.“The crisis with Britain is not over. Britain has the primary responsibility for ending the oil tanker crisis,” Falahatpisheh said.Mousavi said that Tehran was waiting for a court decision on alleged maritime violations by the Stena Impero and he hoped the procedures would be completed as soon as possible.The head of Iran’s judiciary Ebrahim Raisi also said “Iran should claim damages…to teach a lesson to those who acted against international laws and regulations by seizing the tanker.”Iran has denied its tanker was ever headed to Syria, a close ally of Tehran.The two vessels have since become pawns in a bigger game, feeding into wider hostilities since the United States pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Iran.

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Car bomb kills Kurdish police officer in northeast Syria

Gibraltar says unable to meet US request to seize Iranian tanker now called ‘Adrian Darya-1’ GIBRALTAR: Gibraltar refused a US request to seize the Iranian tanker Grace 1 on Sunday, saying it was unable to comply because it was bound by European Union law. A federal court in Washington on Friday issued a warrant for the…

Car bomb kills Kurdish police officer in northeast Syria

Gibraltar says unable to meet US request to seize Iranian tanker now called ‘Adrian Darya-1’

GIBRALTAR: Gibraltar refused a US request to seize the Iranian tanker Grace 1 on Sunday, saying it was unable to comply because it was bound by European Union law.

A federal court in Washington on Friday issued a warrant for the seizure of the tanker, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million. British Royal Marines had detained the vessel in Gibraltar in July on suspicion that it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

“The Central Authority’s inability to seek the Orders requested is a result of the operation of European Union law and the differences in the sanctions regimes applicable to Iran in the EU and the US,” a Gibraltar government statement said.

“The EU sanctions regime against Iran – which is applicable in Gibraltar – is much narrower than that applicable in the US.”

The tanker raised an Iranian flag and and had a new name painted on its side, Reuters images of the stationary vessel filmed off Gibraltar showed on Sunday.

Video footage and photographs showed the tanker flying the red, green and white flag of Iran and bearing the new name of ‘Adrian Darya-1’ painted in white on its hull. Its previous name, ‘Grace 1’, had been painted over. The vessel’s anchor was still down.

The Grace 1 had originally flown the Panamian flag but Panama’s Maritime Authority said in July that the vessel had been de-listed after an alert that indicated the ship had participated in or was linked to terrorism financing.

Gibraltar lifted a detention order on the vessel on Thursday but its fate was further complicated by the United States, which made a last-ditch legal appeal to hold it.

The initial impounding of the Grace 1 kicked off a sequence of events that saw Tehran seize a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf two weeks later, heightening tension on a vital international oil shipping route.

That tanker, the Stena Impero, is still detained.

The two vessels have since become pawns in a bigger game, feeding into wider hostilities since the United States last year pulled out of an international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, and reimposed economic sanctions.

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