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Hamas calls for dismantling American field hospital for failing to provide needed services

Hamas refused to deal with the newly established American field hospital in the Gaza Strip and prohibited its citizens from visiting it, saying that the medical center is not providing services for difficult cases, such as cancer, as agreed upon in the truce understandings with Israel.
Palestinian protesters wounded during clashes with Israeli forces receive treatments from Red Crescent members in a field hospital during a demonstration along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, east of Gaza city on June 22, 2018. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Hamas movement has refused to approve the operation of the American field hospital in the Gaza Strip, just two weeks after it began operating, after the hospital’s management reportedly reneged on its previous promises to provide medical services that are not available in the besieged enclave.

A source from Hamas, which has been governing the Gaza Strip since 2007, confirmed to Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency Jan. 14 that the movement decided to prohibit patients from going to or dealing with the American field hospital that was established in northern Gaza. Hamas argues that the hospital is not providing the services that were agreed upon in the truce understandings with Israel.

According to the same source, Hamas agreed to the building of the field hospital at the end of 2018, as part of the United Nations-brokered truce understandings agreed upon under Arab mediation to stop military escalation with Israel at the time. The truce also mentioned a series of other incentives, including the renewal of the monthly Qatari grant to Gaza amounting to $30 million.

This is in addition to building and operating the American hospital to admit difficult medical cases, such as cancer, and heart and psychiatric illnesses, which are usually transferred for treatment to Israeli hospitals or Palestinian health-care establishments in the West Bank.

The source said that Hamas informed the mediators of its decision to suspend the hospital’s work, arguing that the building of said hospital was initially approved on the basis that it would cover the shortages facing Gaza’s health-care sector. 

The hospital is a donation from the Park West Children’s Fund, known as the Friend Ships group, which stated that the health-care center would offer Gazans an array of medical services, including family medicine, pediatrics, maternity services, ophthalmology, dental, physical therapy, PTSD therapy and cancer treatment.

Hamas’ decision to suspend the hospital’s work came following the Friend Ships’ announcement on Facebook Jan. 11 that the medical center has started to receive patients from Gaza. 

“The Gaza Health Center is ready to receive patients for Family Day Clinics. The GHC medical volunteers are busy stocking the pharmacy with the amazing and generous donations of medications for free distribution as we anxiously await the coordination of patients from the Ministry of Health in Gaza,” the post read.

Abdel Latif al-Hajj, a doctor and director general of international cooperation at the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor via phone, “There has been prior communication with the American field hospital about the priority needs of the Gaza Strip that include oncology and radiotherapy, which turned out are not offered at the medical center. Patients [requiring these services] have to travel abroad to Egypt, Israel or the West Bank for treatment.”

He said, “The field hospital is made up of tents, and so delicate surgical operations cannot be provided.”

Hajj noted, “We had requested the field hospital to provide treatment to cancer patients, such as chemotherapy, as well as treatment for rheumatic diseases and other services that do not require a large infrastructure. We got positive feedback on our proposal, but [since the hospital began operating] in the past couple of weeks [early January], only family medicine, dental and psychology clinics have been set up at the field hospital. These services are already available in clinics and hospitals in Gaza.

He added, "The Health Ministry discussed the services provided by the field hospital so far, and decided they are not a priority.”

Many Hamas officials in Gaza refused to comment on the matter. But Hajj expressed no objection on the part of the Health Ministry to deal with the hospital if it provided the needed medical priorities in the Gaza Strip. But he said, “I don’t know what Hamas' position is in regard to this,” in reference to whether Hamas will allow the hospital to operate if it provides the needed services. 

The hospital consists of tents equipped to provide some medical services. It is adjacent to the only crossing for the passage of individuals through Israel, which is the Erez/Beit Hanoun crossing, under Israel’s control, in the northernmost part of the Gaza Strip, which makes access easier for Palestinians or foreign doctors arriving from Israel. The center occupies 35 acres and is equipped with 15 beds.

“The hospital is so far equipped with 10 to 15 beds only, which is sufficient to perform simple surgeries only, which can already be performed in clinics in the Gaza Strip. The medical staff are volunteers and not fully dedicated to the work there. The hospital also needs translators to deal with locals, which is a major administrative hurdle in a medical establishment that is ostensibly providing important and continuous services,” Hajj said.

Many Hamas officials in Gaza refused to comment on the matter. But Hajj expressed no objection on the part of the Health Ministry to deal with the hospital if it provided the needed medical priorities in the Gaza Strip.

Mustafa Sawaf, a political analyst close to Hamas, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas refused [that the Ministry of Health] takes over the field hospital because it does not meet the agreed-upon specifications. The medical center is supposed to provide treatment for illnesses that require patients to travel abroad to obtain them, while Israel hinders their exit.”

He said, “With its current situation, the hospital is of no value or benefit. It is better to dismantle it than leaving it."

Sawaf added, “The [limited medical services] that have been offered are a clear sign of going back on the implementation of the understandings that have been reached between Hamas and Israel through UN and Qatari mediation. The failure to implement the understandings — as is currently happening — may be a reason for a possible escalation.”

At the end of 2019, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Hamas’ approval of the field hospital, claiming that it amounts to an approval of the establishment of an American military base in the Gaza Strip. 

It should be noted that there is no coordination between the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza and the Health Ministry affiliated with the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah and headed by the president.

The launching of incendiary balloons from Gaza toward Israel has resumed over the past month, in addition to the firing of sporadic experimental and actual rockets. Israel retaliated with limited military attacks, which indicates that tension might escalate between the two sides and points to a violation of the truce understandings.

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