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'Catastrophic situation' imminent as Gaza's children hospitals nearly out of fuel

Health ministry says hundreds of patients face an unknown fate in the coming hours as Israel continues to block vital Qatari funds
A Qatari grant had helped keep the only power plant in Gaza active, reducing the number of hours hospitals need to reply on generators (Reuters)

A spokesperson for Gaza's health ministry has warned of a "catastrophic situation" as hospitals, including ones for children, are forced to close down due to a lack of fuel.

"Hundreds of patients at Gaza hospitals will be facing an unknown fate when their electric generators shut down due to the fuel crisis," said Ashraf al-Qedra on Saturday, commenting on a situation that has been exacerbated by Israel's decision to block vital Qatari funds to the besieged strip.

"The coming hours are crucial at: Al-Nasr Hospital for Children; Al-Rantisi for Children, Ophthalmology, Psychiatry; and Abu Yusif Al Najjar Hospital," said Qedra.

"Patients in Gaza are crying for their unknown fate."

The ministry had announced on Thursday that the Beit Hanoun hospital, in the besieged strip's north, had already stopped providing services due to a lack of fuel needed to operate generators.

"The cessation of vital services at the Beit Hanoun hospital means that 340,000 people are deprived of receiving treatment, surgical procedures and laboratory services, as well as disrupting work in the emergency department," a spokesman said.

Qatar grant blocked

In 2017, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pulled the plug on Palestinian Authority (PA) funds for fuel in the Gaza Strip, part of a number of moves to squeeze Hamas, the PA's rival movement which governs Gaza.

Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party, which dominates the PA in the occupied West Bank, have been at odds since 2007, when the movement took control of the coastal enclave.

Soon after Israel imposed a crippling siege on Gaza, which combined with several Israeli offensives and the PA-Hamas breakdown has devastated Gaza's infrastructure and living conditions.

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Abbas’s fuel embargo has only exacerbated this, with electricity supply about 50 percent of what it should be.

Gaza's health ministry has kept its generators running through international donations, but now those funds are coming to an end.

A Qatari grant has helped keep the only power plant in Gaza active, reducing the number of hours hospitals need to reply on generators.

However, Israel has refused the entry of Qatari money into the Gaza Strip for a second week in a row, leaving public sector employees hired by Hamas unpaid and increasing tensions in the besieged enclave.

Qatar has promised to pay the salaries of public sector workers in Gaza by donating $15m over six months.

For the last two months, the employees have received their salaries. However, the latest batch of money has not been able to enter the Strip, leaving them unpaid.

"The disruption is an Israeli violation of understandings between the Palestinian factions and the occupation that were reached through Egyptian mediation," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem, told Middle East Eye.

'Additional steps'

Palestinians have been protesting against conditions in Gaza every Friday since 30 March as part of the Great March of Return.

The protest campaign calls for an end to the 12-year Israeli blockade on Gaza and for Palestinian refugees' right of return to the lands that their families fled during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

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More than 250 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and thousands injured since the demonstrations began, mostly by Israeli fire during protests but also by air and tank strikes.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period

Qasem said the protests will continue and the delaying of the Qatari money would increase the number of protesters along the border.

He said that the demonstrators may resort to "additional steps" if the Israeli obstruction continues.

Friday protest

Within Israel, a wide debate is being waged over the government's allowing of Qatari funds to enter the Gaza Strip, intensified by the proximity of Israeli elections to be held in April.

According to Israeli media reports, the decision whether to allow the grant to enter may depend on reaction to the size and ferociousness of the latest protests held on Friday.

At least 30 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire during the latest protests, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The ministry said those wounded included two medics, but did not report that any were in life-threatening condition.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said approximately 14,000 Palestinians took part in "riots" along the border, with protesters "burning tyres and hurling rocks at soldiers".

Troops responded "in accordance with standard operating procedures," she said.

Critics say Israel's blockade amounts to collective punishment of the impoverished enclave's two million residents.

Egypt also upholds the siege, restricting movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

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