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UN calls for next phase of Hodeidah agreement amid stalemate

JERUSALEM: When Palestinian preschooler Aisha a-Lulu came out of brain surgery in a strange Jerusalem hospital room, she called out for her mother and father. She repeated the cry over and over, but her parents never came.Instead of a family member, Israeli authorities had approved a stranger to escort Aisha from the blockaded Gaza Strip…

UN calls for next phase of Hodeidah agreement amid stalemate

JERUSALEM: When Palestinian preschooler Aisha a-Lulu came out of brain surgery in a strange Jerusalem hospital room, she called out for her mother and father. She repeated the cry over and over, but her parents never came.Instead of a family member, Israeli authorities had approved a stranger to escort Aisha from the blockaded Gaza Strip to the east Jerusalem hospital. As her condition deteriorated, the child was returned to Gaza unconscious. One week later, she was dead.A photo of Aisha smiling softly in her hospital bed, brown curls swaddled in bandages, drew an outpouring on social media. The wrenching details of her last days have shined a light on Israel’s vastly complex and stringent system for issuing Gaza exit permits.It is a bureaucracy that has Israeli and Palestinian authorities blaming each other for its shortfalls, while inflicting a heavy toll on Gaza’s sick children and their parents.“The most difficult thing is to leave your child in the unknown,” said Waseem a-Lulu, Aisha’s father. “Jerusalem is just an hour away, but it feels as though it is another planet.”So far this year, roughly half of applications for patient companion permits were rejected or left unanswered by Israel, according to the World Health Organization. That has forced over 600 patients, including some dozen children under 18, to make the trek out of the territory alone or without close family by their side.The system stems from the Hamas militant group’s takeover of Gaza in 2007, when it violently ousted the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. Israel and Egypt responded by imposing a blockade that tightly restricted movement in and out of Gaza.The blockade, which Israel says is necessary to prevent Hamas from arming, has precipitated a financial and humanitarian crisis in the enclave. For years, Gaza’s 2 million residents have endured rising poverty and unemployment, undrinkable groundwater and frequent electricity outages. Public hospitals wrestle with chronic shortages of drugs and basic medical equipment. Israel blames Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, for the crisis.In what it portrays as a humanitarian gesture to help Gaza’s civilians, Israel permits Palestinian patients to seek medical treatment at hospitals in Israel and the West Bank once they pass a series of bureaucratic hurdles. COGAT, the Israeli defense body that issues the permits, says it insists that all patients cross with an escort, usually a close relative, unless they wish to go alone or require immediate treatment that doesn’t allow time for security screening.In order to get a permit, patients must first submit a diagnosis to the West Bank-based Palestinian Health Ministry, proving that their treatment isn’t available in Gaza. Then a Palestinian liaison requests exit permits from COGAT, which reviews the applications and passes them to Israel’s Shin Bet security agency for background checks.According to WHO, the approval rate has plummeted in recent years.It said that in 2012, Israel allowed in 93 percent of patients and 83 percent of their companions for treatment. For the month of April 2019, the figure stands at just 65 percent of patients and 52 percent of their companions.A COGAT official disputed the figures, saying they don’t take into account that the number of permit applications has grown as Gaza’s health care system deteriorates, and that Israel has started issuing permits less regularly but for prolonged stays. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity under agency rules, said COGAT is working to ease restrictions by designating a permit specifically for parents of child patients.After being diagnosed with brain cancer, Aisha received immediate approval to get out of Gaza for what was hoped to be life-saving surgery. But when her parents approached the Palestinian Civil Affairs Commission for escort permits, their process ground to a halt.To their bewilderment, Palestinian officials told them not to apply, saying it was too risky.At 37, Waseem is below the age that Israel deems acceptable for swift entry on security grounds. Today, all men under 55 require extra screening, which means waiting, usually for months, according to Mor Efrat, the Gaza and West Bank director for Physicians for Human Rights Israel. As for Aisha’s mother, Muna, a quirk of her upbringing in Egypt left her without an official Israeli-issued ID card required to receive a permit.“We tell families to find a companion that won’t give Israel any reason to refuse,” said Osama Najar, spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry. “We want to save the child and, yes, that can mean sending them alone.”In this sense, the Palestinian Authority “acts as a subcontractor for Israel,” said Efrat, forcing parents to make a difficult choice: delay their child’s urgent care, or search for someone else that Israel would be more likely to let cross.Aisha’s parents said they scoured for alternatives, applying for an aunt and her 75-year-old grandmother, but Israel rejected both.The girl’s only remaining hope, the Palestinian office told them, was to apply for as many older women as possible from their extended social network. A permit for Halima Al-Ades, a remote family acquaintance whom Aisha had never met, was approved.Muna said she had no choice but to sign COGAT’s consent form and whisk her daughter out of Gaza for immediate treatment. She said the frustration of the sprawling bureaucracy, and the painful memory of her 5-year-old daughter crying for her on the phone during her last days, haunts her.“It was the hardest time of my life,” she said. “My heart was being ripped out every day and every hour.”Aisha’s doctor in Jerusalem, Ahmad Khandaqji, said he has treated countless lone patients from Gaza over the past year, but that Aisha’s story stuck with him. “She felt abandoned and betrayed,” he said. “We saw how that directly impacted her recovery.”

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Middle East News

Britain says war with Iran would strengthen militants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we…

Britain says war with Iran would strengthen militants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we reject and which increases our worries about the situation in Libya”.

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US warns ships in Middle East waterways of possible Iran action

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the…

US warns ships in Middle East waterways of possible Iran action

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the hard-won gains that we secured against Daesh,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday said the US killing of Soleimani was state terrorism, and that Iran would ‘respond proportionately.’“We are concerned that if we see a full-blown war it would be very damaging and actually the terrorists, in particular Daesh, would be the only winners,” the British foreign secretary said.“We’re working with our US partners, our EU partners, that is why I’m travelling out to Brussels today, to make sure we send a very clear and consistent message on the need for de-escalation and to find a diplomatic route though.”

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Arab League reaffirms rejection of foreign interference, calls for Libya solution

CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the…

Arab League reaffirms rejection of foreign interference, calls for Libya solution

CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the four ram-headed sphinxes and an obelisk, currently en route to their new home in Tahrir Square.Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has weighed in to say that similar obelisks are displayed in Western cities, according to a statement late Monday.But Dr. Monica Hanna, a heritage expert, said Egyptian artifacts in cities like London, Paris and New York are themselves endangered by being outdoors.“The sphinxes are made of sandstone, they are part of the dry environment in Luxor, when they would be moved to Tahrir Square with all the pollution, they will deteriorate as a result of the reactions with the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air,” Hanna told The Associated Press.She and a member of parliament are part of a lawsuit to block the artifacts’ move, filed recently by a local rights group.Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the government “will do everything” to protect the artifacts.Tahrir Square was the epicenter of Egypt’s so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011. The square also contains the Egyptian Museum.The decision to move the artifacts as part of a larger renovation of Tahrir Square was taken without debate in parliament. The controversy only surfaced after archaeologists objected.Since coming to power in 2013, El-Sisi has touted a number of megaprojects aimed at rebuilding and expanding infrastructure. Those include an expansion of the Suez Canal and a new Egyptian museum near the Giza Pyramids.A centerpiece of the new museum is a towering statue of Ramses II. It once stood in a busy square near Cairo’s main railway station, but was removed in the 1990s due to preservation concerns.Waziri, the antiquities chief, said the four sphinxes are not part of the famed avenue of sphinxes in the city of Luxor. They were among several located behind the first edifice of the temple of Karnak.The obelisk was recently moved to Cairo from the San el-Haggar archaeological site in the Nile Delta, the ministry said.But Hanna, the heritage expert, stressed that the obelisks in Western capitals had been moved during the colonial era. “We really had no say in their shipment.”

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