- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Patients being treated by Gaza’s Shifa Hospital have started dying because the Palestinian Authority’s budget crisis has left it without money to pay for critical medical treatment, said Ibrahim el Habash, the managing director.

“We’ve lost four patients in the last two weeks from chronic renal failure due to the lack of drugs for kidney dialysis,” Mr. el Habash said. “The situation is getting worse day by day.”

The United States and Europe have cut off aid to the Hamas-led government, citing dozens of Hamas suicide attacks and the militant group’s refusal to honor existing Palestinian agreements with Israel.

In addition to missing two months of salary payments for 140,000 employees, the bankrupt Palestinian Authority can’t afford chemotherapy drugs, plaster for casts or surgery anesthetics.

“We are trying to minimize the operation lists and just to do the urgent activities,” said the director of Shifa Hospital, the provider of 80 percent of Gaza’s health services. “We ask all people to distinguish between humanitarian and political issues.”

The supply shortage has been compounded by Israel’s frequent closure of Gaza’s main commercial passage because of threats of additional suicide attacks.

Two weeks ago, Palestinian Health Minister Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas official, appealed for assistance from international human rights groups to prevent a “humanitarian and health crisis.”

The U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) warned of a “rapid decline” and “possible collapse” of the public health system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if the financial crisis continues, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Palestinian Authority pays the salaries of 57 percent of all the health care workers in the West Bank and Gaza, WHO says.

Mr. el Habash said medical employees who hadn’t been paid stopped reporting for work at Shifa Hospital.

He said his employees see the sanctions as a way of punishing the Palestinians for lifting Hamas to a landslide victory over the ruling Fatah party.

Emergency medicine chief Baker Abu Safiyeh said the Palestinian Authority’s strategic reserve of medical supplies has been depleted, and he doubted that the hospital could weather the strain of any flare-up with Israel.

“The psychological effect on the shortage is taking a toll,” Dr. Abu Safiyeh said. “We are getting nervous among the staff, and it is visible to the patients.”

Nonessential operations have been canceled to ration surgical supplies. The emergency chief said he was informed by the chief nurse yesterday that Shifa Hospital had run out of plaster. An effort to locate plaster of Paris among Gaza’s private stores has been fruitless.

The owner of a Gaza medical supply company said he had cut off the Palestinian Authority’s credit because it owed him $1.5 million over the past eight months.

“Every day they come to take supplies, and I’m not giving it to them,” said Nader el Zant, the owner of Zant Medical Supplies Co., which normally provides dialysis and chemotherapy materials to Shifa. “They don’t have the money.”

In the past, financial aid from the European Union was enough to allow the supplier to continue serving the public hospitals, but that assistance has vanished.

Mr. el Zant said he blames the Hamas-led government for the situation because it refused to change its positions on recognizing peace treaties with Israel.

“Hamas must sign the agreement, he said. “This is not a crisis. It’s destroying our business and our people.”

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