54 Palestinian nationals lost their lives during their wait for an Israeli medical visa, World Health Organization reports.

Since Gaza Strip hospitals lack of medical equipment for serious illnesses like cancer, Palestinians are forced to seek medical help in Israel, which has imposed a land, air, and sea blockade on Gaza since 2007.

The number of Palestinians allowed to leave the Gaza strip is very limited. The permits to do so are very few and given only in “exceptional humanitarian cases,” meaning that only those with significant health issues and their companions can be granted with such permits.

According to a joint press release issued on Tuesday by Al Mezan, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Medical Aid for Palestinians and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the record-low rate of medical visas issued by Israel for Palestinian nationals in 2017 seeking medical treatment outside Gaza highlights the urgent need for Israel to end its decade-long closure of the Gaza Strip and ease of restrictions.

According to the WHO, the number of decline in Israel’s issuance of medical permits has been gradual, as follows:

  • 92 percent of the medical permit applications were approved in 2012
  • 88.7 percent in 2013,
  • 82.4 percent in 2014,
  • 77.5 percent in 2015,
  • 62.07 percent in 2016, and
  • 54 percent in 2017.

54 people died in the Gaza Strip while waiting for the approval of their applications in 2017, 46 of whom had cancer. 11 thousand others missed their scheduled medical appointments after the Israeli authorities rejected or did not respond in time to their applications.

“It’s unconscionable that Israel prevented so many critically ill people from accessing care that might have saved their lives,” the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson said, adding that Israel’s continued control over movement into and out of Gaza creates obligations to facilitate humanitarian access.

There are around 2 million people living in the Gaza strip under what the UN labels as “a protracted humanitarian crisis.” Amid poverty and unemployment, more than 10 percent of young children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Electric shortages and lack of medical equipments make it impossible to treat patients with serious illnesses.

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