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8-month-old infant dies in Gaza after being denied exit for heart surgery in Sheba Medical Center in Israel

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Human rights organizations call upon Israel to enable the people of Gaza to enable freedom for the people of Gaza independently of the Palestinian coordination mechanisms

The operation was postponed after the Palestinian Authority body in charge of coordinating the exit of patients from Gaza suspended its activities. Human rights organizations call upon Israel to enable the people of Gaza to enable freedom for the people of Gaza independently of the Palestinian coordination mechanisms.

Omar Yaghi, an eight-month-old infant from Gaza with a cardiac condition, died last Thursday (June 18) following a one-month postponement of his scheduled operation at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer, Israel. The reason for the delay was the suspension of the activities of the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee (PCAC) – the body in charge of coordination civil affairs with Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA). This suspension was one of the consequences of the PA’s declaration last month of freezing coordination with Israel in response to its annexation plan.

Omar was supposed to leave Gaza for an operation in Sheba on May 24. The operation was enabled with the generous assistance of Shevet Achim NGO, which provided full funding for the medical procedure as well as help in coordinating the infant’s travel into Israel. The plan fell through due to the PA’s May declaration of ceasing coordination with Israel due to the annexation plan. The PCAC – responsible for transferring patients’ requests for travel out of Gaza and coordinating their crossing for medical treatment in Israel and the West Bank – refused to accept Omar’s family’s request for a travel permit and submit it to the Israeli District Coordination Office (DCO) at Erez Crossing.

A.’s family thereupon contacted Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI). After Omar’s surgery was rescheduled to June 21t, the NGO resubmitted their application on Omar’s behalf – this time, directly to the DCO without passing through the PCAC. The DCO replied that they received PHRI’s application. Unfortunately, Omar passed away at the age of eight months, merely three days before the operation that could have saved his life.

A couple of weeks ago, PHRI warned that hundreds of Palestinian patients were being denied medical treatment due to the collapse of the coordination mechanisms – including patients with cancer and other severe conditions in urgent need of lifesaving treatments. The NGO has seen a recent upsurge in the number of Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip and West Bank appealing to it for help in obtaining medical treatment unavailable to them in those territories. These patients have described how the Palestinian agencies in charge of coordinating their travel with the Israeli authorities stopped transferring their application for exit permits on medical grounds. For patients living in Gaza, the situation is even worse, since most of them receive regular treatments in hospitals in East Jerusalem and the rest of the Gaza Strip, and now there is no official Palestinian body handling their requests. Finally, in their communications to PHRI the patients have argued that the Palestinian Ministry of Health refuses to schedule appointments for them in Israeli hospitals and as well as to provide the requisite financial cover.

Last week, human rights organizations appealed to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Kamil Abu Rukun, demanding that the freedom of movement of Palestinians who need to leave Gaza must be secured independently of the recently suspended activity of the Palestinian coordination mechanisms. In a letter sent on Thursday, June 18, PHRI, HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, and Adalah – Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel demanded that Israel remove immediately all administrative restrictions on the submission of applications for entry permits, and allow free crossing from Gaza for medical and other humanitarian needs. The NGOs also demand that Israel put in place a new mechanism to enable Gazans to submit such applications without the mediation of the PCAC, and that the details of the new mechanism be made public.

In their letter, the NGOs write as follows: “Israel is the sole entity in charge of the border crossing. It fully controls the freedom of movement of the people in Gaza. Israel is the one that created the permit regime, deciding on the criteria for issuing them independently and exclusively. The Palestinian Authority, through the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in the Gaza Strip, is only a secondary player, responsible for regulating movement. Consequently, the suspension of the committee’s coordination activity in no way affects Israel’s obligations and in no way reduces its duty to ensure that the passage of civilians through the crossing continues”.