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Gaza: Palestinian cancer sufferers denied safe passage

Thirteen Palestinians in Gaza with cancer and other life-threatening conditions are being denied safe passage out of the beleaguered territory by Israeli military authorities, Amnesty International warned today, as it launched an ‘urgent action’ appeal on behalf of the group.

Urgent medical treatment for the 13 ill people - two Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and 11 men aged between 20 and 50 - is not available in Gaza, and dozens of other people who were also refused passage out of Gaza for medical treatment have died in recent months.

The 13 include 28-year-old Rihab ‘Attia Abu Taha, who has throat cancer and needs radiation therapy (she had been receiving radiation therapy in Egypt regularly for four years but has not been able to in the past year), and 29-year-old Rami Al-Arouqi, who has a tumor in the bone of his right leg and urgently needs a scan, unavailable in Gaza, to give him a chance of recovery.

The Israeli authorities say they cannot allow these and other critically ill patients to leave Gaza because of unspecified "security" reasons. Such restrictions, though common for several years, have reached their highest level since Israel tightened its blockade on Gaza last June.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“While security is obviously a legitimate concern at all times for Israel, this decision appears callous in the extreme.

“Denying passage to patients in desperate need of medical care serves no legitimate security purpose, as all patients undergo strict security checks at the crossing. These measures appear to be cold-blooded retaliation for rocket attacks launched by Palestinian armed groups from Gaza into southern Israel.

“By effectively denying these seriously ill patients vital medical treatment, the Israeli authorities may be signing their death warrants. We urge the Israeli military authorities to reverse this decision.”

In response to a petition lodged by the Israeli human rights organisation Physician for Human Rights-Israel, the Israeli Supreme Court recently examined the military authorities’ decision to refuse passage out of Gaza to a number of the 13. The court acknowledged that they needed urgent treatment, but ruled that it could not intervene in the decision to refuse them permission to leave Gaza.

Several patients denied permits to leave Gaza on "security" grounds have eventually been allowed to leave after Israeli human rights NGOs threatened to take their cases to the Supreme Court. However, far more patients have been denied permission to leave Gaza.

Background information
Some 1.5 million Palestinians have been trapped in Gaza since 9 June 2007, when Israel closed their main gate to the outside world - the Rafah Crossing point to Egypt.

Only a handful of Palestinians have since been permitted to leave the territory, and have done so from Israel (via the Erez crossing, used almost exclusively by foreign journalists and humanitarian workers but closed to Palestinians, except for rare exceptions).

Medical facilities in Gaza lack the specialised staff and equipment to treat a range of conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular illnesses. Hospitals and medical facilities are also increasingly short of drugs and disposable supplies as a result of Israel's blockades on Gaza's imports. According to the World Health Organisation, scores of essential drugs are out of stock, and stocks of many other drugs are low.

Under international law, Israel, as the occupying power, is prohibited from imposing collective punishment or reprisals on the Palestinian population, and must ensure that the residents of Gaza have access to the necessary medical care.

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