Arab ministers meet Tuesday to address Gaza health crisis

RIYADH: The Kingdom will host an emergency meeting of Arab health ministers here on Tuesday to discuss how to send urgent medical assistance to thousands of Palestinians who have been wounded and rendered homeless in the continuing Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. The ministers will also address the health crisis, especially among women and children who are dying in the poorly equipped and understaffed hospitals of the war-torn region.

“The meeting of Arab health ministers will greatly help to coordinate positions in terms of relief operations,” Khaled Al-Mirghalani, official spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said yesterday.

The meeting, Al-Mirghalani said, will find ways and means to provide all kinds of support to the ailing Palestinian health sector, particularly the health care centers and hospitals in Gaza, which have almost collapsed in massive Israeli shelling over the last two weeks.

“The meeting, to be chaired by Saudi Arabia, will also take up other urgent issues, including the evacuation of the injured civilians and the inability of Palestinian hospitals to provide vital medical services,” he said.

The ministers will make an assessment of the massive medical needs of Palestinians and coordinate efforts to deal with the huge influx of the wounded, which has made hospitals and clinics in Gaza too crowded to give them emergency care.

“A very substantial percentage of injured Palestinians now has the risk of suffering from chronic diseases and hence they need urgent medical assistance,” said a WHO report, released yesterday.

Saudi Arabia, which managed for the first time yesterday to send badly needed food and medicine shipments into the Gaza Strip, has intensified relief and evacuation efforts further.

The plan to step up aid efforts comes following reports that the health services in Gaza have collapsed as medical supplies pile up at the borders.

“A planeload of relief materials took off from King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh yesterday, while a Medevac plane with eight seriously injured Palestinians landed at Riyadh Airbase,” said Al-Mirghalani.

At least 38 wounded Palestinians have been evacuated and admitted to different hospitals in Riyadh so far, said the spokesman.

“The plane, which left yesterday was carrying 12 tons of medical supplies for the war-ravaged region,” Al-Mirghalani said.

He said the Kingdom was racing against time to send more relief and medical supplies because of the intensified Israeli attacks on the civilian population of Gaza.

The Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND), a non-profit regional development agency headed by Prince Talal, has also come forward and joined hands to alleviate the sufferings of Palestinians. In a statement released yesterday, Prince Turki bin Talal announced that arrangements had been made to send relieve convoys to Palestine.

He said the relief materials, which will include foodstuffs, clothes, medical supplies and equipment would be sent via Rafah crossing with the cooperation of the United Nations.

Prince Talal has called for the lifting the siege imposed on Gaza. The Israeli attacks has killed 23 medical personnel and seriously injured 38 other health workers.

“At least 11 ambulances have been hit since Israel began the offensive on Dec. 27,” the WHO statement said, while referring to targeted attacks by the Israelis on relief shipments.

There is a growing fear that the attacks will hamper relief efforts at a time when health workers in Gaza are exhausted and hospitals that depend on generators for power are running out of fuel, WHO said. At least 750 Palestinians have died and 3,500 have been wounded in the attacks.

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