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Palestinian medics harassed by Israeli forces in Gaza: WHO

Palestinian Red Crescent medics harassed, detained by Israeli soldiers in Gaza: WHO
4 min read
13 December, 2023
A PRCS medic was detained and beaten by the Israeli army and a critically ill patient succumbed to wounds as an ambulance convoy was held up at a checkpoint.
Medical teams have been attempting to transport the most seriously injured patients from the north to the south of Gaza [GETTY]

Medical staff from the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) are being harassed and detained by the Israeli army in Gaza while carrying out urgent missions to transfer wounded patients and deliver aid, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

One PRCS medic was detained, beaten and stripped by the Israeli army and a critically ill patient succumbed to wounds and died while an ambulance convoy was held up by the army at a checkpoint, the WHO said in a statement.

The WHO and PRCS have been carrying out dangerous humanitarian missions entering active military zones to deliver surgical supplies and aid to devastated northern parts of the Gaza Strip, which has seen some of the worst bombardment since October 7, and pick up critically wounded patients, .

Palestinians who remain in the north have spoken of ‘living hell’ as no aid has been able to enter the north for weeks under the Israeli army's siege.

Medical teams have been attempting to rescue the most seriously injured patients from the north to transfer them to hospitals in the south where they can hope to receive better treatment.

On December 9, a joint WHO-PRCS mission delivering trauma and surgical supplies to the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City and picking up 19 critical patients to transport south to the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis was harassed by the Israeli army.

On the way to the hospital in the north, the UN convoy was held up at an Israeli army checkpoint at Wadi Gaza, in the centre of the Gaza Strip. The vehicle was forcibly searched, and staff told to show identities and leave.

The army detained two of the PRCS staff for over an hour, holding up the emergency convoy, and one medic was held at gunpoint and taken away.

“WHO staff saw a Palestine Red Crescent Society staff member forced to his knees at gunpoint, then taken out of sight, and reportedly harassed, beaten, stripped and searched,” the statement said.

The convoy then came under gunfire when it entered Gaza City.

When it returned with the wounded patients from Al-Ahli Hospital it was again stopped at Wadi Gaza with ‘most of the patients’ and staff forced to get out the vehicle and inspected by Israeli soldiers.

The soldiers detained the same two PRCS employees despite the mission trying “several times to coordinate their release”.

“But after two and a half hours, it was forced to make the difficult decision to leave the dangerous area and continue on its way for the safety of the patients and humanitarian workers,” the WHO said.

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The PRCS later said that one patient had died after their wounds could not be treated in time due to the hold up at the checkpoint.

Only after joint efforts by the UN and PRCS was the employee later released by the army.

“That employee said that he was harassed, beaten, threatened, stripped of his clothes, and blindfolded.

“His hands were tied behind his back, and he was treated in a degrading and humiliating manner. Once released, he was left walking south with his hands still tied behind his back, and without clothes or shoes,” the WHO statement said.

Medical staff have reported extreme dangers in carrying out their work and hospitals have been a major target of the Israeli military's indiscriminate war on Gaza.

The statement also said that the whereabouts are still unknown of six people from Gaza’s Ministry of Health and the PRCS who were arrested by Israeli forces on November 22.

The WHO said obstructing ambulances and attacking humanitarian and health workers were “unscrupulous acts”.

“Health care facilities, including ambulances, are protected under international law. It must be respected and protected in all circumstances," it said.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions state that in armed conflicts medical personnel should be respected and protected in all circumstances.

The WHO has repeatedly called for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and on Tuesday the director general of the WHO said he was "extremely worried about reports of a raid at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza after several days of siege."

"WHO further calls for an immediate ceasefire and for sustained humanitarian access to health facilities across the Gaza Strip," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X.