Image: Medical personnel check newborn conjoined-twin Palestinian girls Retag and Retal
Said Khatib  /  AFP - Getty Images
Medical personnel check newborn conjoined twin Palestinian girls Retag and Retal. Saudi King Abdullah has facilitated the transfer of the twins from the Gaza Strip to a Riyadh hospital where surgeons will attempt to separate them, local newspapers reported.
updated 4/6/2010 11:56:58 AM ET 2010-04-06T15:56:58

The first known pair of Palestinian conjoined twins arrived in Saudi Arabia Tuesday for separation surgery 10 days after their birth, overcoming a particularly Gazan string of obstacles including a blockade, squabbling governments and even holidays.

In the end, on Tuesday, Egyptian authorities authorized a rare opening of the country's Rafah crossing with Egypt so the girls, their parents and a medical team could cross. From northern Sinai, a special Saudi medical plane whisked them off to Saudi Arabia, where Saudi King Abdullah will foot the bill for their operation.

Khaled al-Marghalani of the Saudi Health Ministry confirmed the twins had arrived and were on their way to the National Guard Hospital in the capital Riyadh.

The two girls, Rital and Ritaj, were born in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis on March 27, joined at the chest and sharing small intestines. Each girl has her own heart, lungs and other organs, increasing chances they'll be able to survive separately, said doctor Ayman Abu Amouna, who oversaw their care in Gaza.

TV footage of the twins in the Gaza hospital shows them sleeping face to face, each in her own diaper, one with an arm around the other's body.

Mohammed al-Kashif of Hamas Health Ministry in Gaza said the girl's birth sparked curiosity across Gaza and that doctors from around the territory came to examine the rare condition they had read about in textbooks but never seen.

Video: Gaza border opened for conjoined twins Al-Kashif said the girls were the first conjoined twins on record in the Palestinian territories. Spokesman Omar Nasser for the Palestinian Authority's Health Ministry in the West Bank concurred.

Rival Palestinian governments have ruled the two territories since the Islamic militant Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, leaving him in control only of the West Bank. Attempts at reconciliation have failed.

Israel and Egypt imposed a strict blockade Gaza after the Hamas takeover, harming the territory's health services and making it hard for patients to travel for treatment. Israel says it lets sufficient humanitarian products, including medical supplies, into the territory.

Kashif said Gaza's Health Ministry asked the Saudi Embassy in Egypt to facilitate the twins' travel. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank issued passports for the girls and their father on Saturday but couldn't send them to Gaza, because Israel was observing the last Sabbath of the Passover holiday and offices were closed, said Health Ministry spokesman Omar Nasser.

The West Bank and Gaza lie on opposite sides of Israel.

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The passports reached Gaza on Sunday, but the family couldn't travel on Monday because of a holiday in Egypt, Nasser said.

Further complications arose because Egypt has minimal contact with the Hamas government in Gaza, preferring to deal with the Palestinian Authority.

On Tuesday, following Saudi intervention, Hamas facilitated the twins' transfer to the border, which Egypt opened especially so they could cross.

Tuesday afternoon, they boarded a special medical plane chartered by Saudi King Abdullah. In Saudi Arabia, chief surgeon and Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabia will perform the surgery, paid for by the king, said Ahmad Mohammed al-Sedairi, Saudi ambassador to Egypt.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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