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Facing 'catastrophe' amid severe fuel crisis, Gaza hospitals issue call for aid

FILE- A Palestinian boy is treated on a dialysis machine at al-Shifa hospital, in Gaza City, Monday, Jan. 21, 2008. Gaza City awoke Monday to shuttered bread shops and gas stations, prompting officials to warn of a possible humanitarian crisis
AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

The Palestinian Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip again raised the alarm Monday that health facilities and services will soon be forced to cease operation as the coastal enclave faces a severe fuel crisis.

The ministry held a press conference at a hospital in Rafah to raise awareness for the dire situation and urge that additional fuel sources are urgently needed to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

"We appeal to all parties concerned to work immediately to end the fuel crisis before stopping generators at the Emirates Crescent Hospital in Rafah within hours," ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said at the conference.

The closing of the Rafah hospital "will be followed by a number of health facilities in the coming days," he warned.

“The acute fuel crisis has entered the countdown phase to the cessation of health services in the Gaza Strip without any responses from the relevant authorities,” al-Qidra warned in recent days.

Al-Qidra said the crisis has persisted despite “austerity measures" that have been adopted to mitigate the shortage regarding the use of power.AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra

Hospital personnel at Rafah's UAE Crescent hospital also issued an appeal to the United Arab Emirates' government for intervention "to save the catastrophic situation that the hospital is undergoing and solve the crisis of shortage of diesel to preserve the lives of our children and women."

In recent weeks, the Gaza ministry's calls for aid have been echoed by the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) who have warned of a “real catastrophe” if additional sources are not found, as fuel levels are expected to reach empty within a week.

Last year, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stopped providing funds designated for fuel in the Gaza Strip in an effort to increase pressure on rival Hamas.

Qatari aid, subject to Israeli approval

On October 10, as part of a multilateral agreement with Israel brokered by Egypt and Qatar, Qatar began to supply $60 million worth of fuel to the Gaza Strip in a series of deliveries.

With Israel’s approval, the Qatar deal plans to see $150 million in aid delivered to the Gaza Strip. The package includes some $15 million to be allocated each month for the salaries of Gaza’s government employees.

On November 9th, the first payment was delivered to the strip’s employees.SAID KHATIB (AFP)

The third and most recent payment was supposed to arrive two weeks ago but has still not been delivered. The delayed payments has led Hamas to threaten to escalate violence in Gaza until the salaries are delivered.

The deliveries have been halted and continued numerous times by Israel after escalated violence in Gaza.

UN warns of stability deterioration

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs highlighted the impact of the severe fuel crisis in their 2018 annual report, noting that the Qatar fuel has alleviated the situation, but not solved the fuel problem.

“Since late October, the delivery of fuel funded by Qatar has provided a significant, if temporary, improvement in the electricity supply.”

The report notes that 2018 saw a sharp deterioration in the humanitarian and political situation in Gaza after years of relative absence of armed conflict since the end of the 2014 war.

Since the protests began in March, at least 240 Palestinians have been killed, including 50 members of Hamas, mostly by Israeli fire during border clashes but also by air and tank strikes.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period.

MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)

“The health system, on the verge of collapse following years of blockade and de-development, is now overburdened with massive casualties from the ongoing “Great March of Return” demonstrations,” the report said.

"Patients referred outside for medical treatment unavailable in Gaza, especially those injured in the demonstrations, continue to face major access constraints on exiting through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing, with only 59 percent approved in the first half of 2018.”

“The UN has been providing some 250 critical facilities, including all 14 public hospitals, water, sewage treatment and solid waste collection facilities, with emergency fuel to avert the collapse of essential services. Hospitals have rationalized fuel reserves by suspending sterilization, laundry, cleaning, catering and selected diagnostic services.”

The UN and Gaza's government have repeatedly warned that new fuel sources must be found in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster in the coastal enclave.

US cuts to Palestinian aid

United States’ previously generous federal aid to the Palestinians has been reduced to a trickle by a series of punitive measures taken by the Trump administration against the Palestinians, who have been refusing to play ball with the US’s efforts to negotiate a peace deal with Israel.

In August, the Trump administration announced it was slashing millions of dollars in support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), accusing the Palestinian aid agency of perpetuating the Middle East conflict by perpetuating the idea that millions of Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to homes in what is today Israel.

AFP/Archives

Millions of dollars have also been cut for bilateral aid to the Palestinians for projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including to hospitals in east Jerusalem.

The cuts were meant to pressure the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after efforts to negotiate Trump’s “deal of the century” came to a screeching halt with the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December.

In the Gaza Strip, around 80 percent of the two million residents rely on international aid.

The strip has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade. Israel and Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

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