WHO calls for patient access in Gaza strip after 11-day violence

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Geneva

As health workers struggle to care for the sick and wounded after 11 days of violence, the World Health Organisation on Friday sought access to patients in the Gaza strip and free passage to evacuate them for medical treatment.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a Geneva briefing that around 600 patients, including some with chronic conditions, needed to be referred outside of the Palestinian enclave since the start of the hostilities, but had been unable to due to crossing closures.

“It’s very important that we help Palestinians get the care they need, especially helping them get treatment outside the Gaza strip,” she said.

WHO has a presence on the ground, Chaib said, but was unable to confirm whether it currently had any access from the outside. Other aid agencies have complained about limited humanitarian access and drug supplies.

Dozens of health centres were damaged during Israeli bombings earlier this month, prompting the WHO to warn that facilities risked being overwhelmed.

“The capacity of the health system to respond is completely crushed,” Helen Ottens-Patterson, MSF head of mission in Gaza, told journalists earlier this week.

In an indication of the challenges ahead, she said that an MSF team had to “wade through rubble and glass” to access a ministry of health compound earlier this week.

Aid workers have also raised concerns about a possible surge in COVID-19 infections after the latest violence, since many people displaced by bombings were crowded together for shelter.

An international investigation will be launched into violations surrounding the latest Gaza violence and the “systematic” abuses in Palestine and Israel after the UN Human Rights Council granted an approval on Thursday.

The resolution, which passed with 24 of the council’s 47 members in favour, will spur an unprecedented level of scrutiny on abuses and their “root causes” in the decades-long Middle East conflict.

The text, which was presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was debated during a special one-day council session focused on the surge in deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians this month.

Opening the session, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced particular concern about the “high level of civilian fatalities and injuries” from the attacks on Gaza, and warned the Israeli attacks on the enclave “may constitute war crimes”.—Reuters