IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Doctors stuck at bottleneck on Gaza border

Frustration is mounting at Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip, where many local and foreign doctors are stuck after Egyptian authorities denied them entry into the coastal area.
Image: Egyptian paramedics evacuate an injured Palestinian man
Egyptian paramedics move an injured Palestinian man to an Egyptian ambulance at the Rafah border crossing on Monday.Nasser Nasser / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Greek anesthesiologist Dimitrios Mognie and another doctor arrived at this border crossing loaded with medical supplies to help Gazans wounded in the Israeli offensive. Instead, they have waited at the border for days.

On Tuesday, a representative from a Norwegian medical aid organization was allowed to enter the Gaza Strip from Rafah. But most doctors have been denied entry by Egyptian authorities and spend their days drinking tea and coffee at a small, dusty cafe near the crossing's metal gates.

"This is a shame," said Mognie, who decided to use his vacation time to try help Gazans. He thought entering through Egypt, which has a narrow border with the Hamas-ruled strip, was his best bet.

"That in 2009 they have people in need of help from a doctor and we can go to help and they won't let us. This is crazy," he added.

Gaza's few hospitals have been swamped by more than 2,400 wounded in Israel's 11-day campaign to stop Hamas militants from launching rockets into Israel. Almost 600 Palestinians have been killed. Nearly half of the dead are civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian officials.

Mognie and his colleague, both from the Greek organization Doctors for Peace, were the last in their group of six Greek doctors to remain at the Rafah border after arriving Friday with medical supplies. The others returned home after being continually rebuffed by the Egyptian border guards.

Three Norwegian medical personnel, including the one who crossed on Tuesday, have been allowed into Gaza from Egypt.

Security worries
Mognie, who said he has worked in conflict zones such as Iraq, Angola and Somalia, added that he understood worries over security but that he was willing to take the risk to help the people in Gaza.

Israel and Egypt first closed their borders with Gaza after Hamas took control of the area in June 2007. The Egyptian closure has been seen by some as abetting Israel's siege of the crowded strip, home to 1.4 million people.

Since Israel's offensive, Egypt has taken in a trickle of wounded Palestinians from Gaza through the crossing in the border town of Rafah. Cairo, the main mediator between Israel and Hamas, has said it would only open Rafah if moderate Palestinian forces of President Mahmoud Abbas are in charge of the crossing.

Calls to Egypt to ease the border bottleneck — where aid convoys first have to have their cargo unloaded from Egyptian trucks before it's loaded onto Palestinian ones and taken into the strip — have increased, including from Hamas allies such as Iran.

Palestinian ambulances are not allowed beyond the Egyptian border crossing. Patients are taken out of the often poorly equipped Palestinian ambulances and transferred on gurneys to Egyptian ones.

At least 20 wounded Palestinians were brought to Egypt on Tuesday, bringing the total transferred to 143 since the start of the offensive, said Mohammed Arafat, a Palestinian Authority representative in Rafah.

The day before, Palestinian doctor Abed el-Qader Lubbad arrived at the border in one of the ambulances transporting patients from Gaza. Of the eight patients he ferried, one who was seriously wounded died on the way, said Lubbad, who works in the intensive care unit at Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

Obstetrician Jemilah Mahmood, the president of Mercy Malaysia, said her group worked with the Egyptian Red Crescent to transfer about $100,000 worth of medical supplies to Gaza on Monday and planned to send another shipment next week.

But while supplies can get through, Mahmood said neither she nor her colleagues were allowed to cross.

"Can you imagine how many women are hurt and how few women doctors there are?" she said. "All of us are sitting at the border."