Palestinian cancer patient denied entry from Gaza into Israel for hospital care

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A 21-year-old cancer patient in urgent need of specialist treatment was stopped from entering Israel from Gaza despite securing prior permission from the Israeli military to cross the border.

The incident, the latest in a series which the Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) claims is part of a tough new policy by the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet towards seriously ill patients from Gaza seeking treatment in Israel, came as Israel separately stepped up its response to the firing of Qassam rockets by Gaza militants.

The Defence minister Ehud Barak gave the go-ahead to begin phased cuts in power to the Strip in direct response to the firing of rockets, in line with last month's Cabinet declaration that Gaza was a "hostile entity".

His deputy Matan Vilnai said Israel was no longer obliged to supply more power than the "minimum needed to avert a crisis". The move is likely to begin with cuts of around 15 minutes after a rocket is fired, with the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, a frequent site for rocket launches, the most affected initially. Two Qassam rockets struck open fields in the southern border town of Sderot yesterday without causing injury and two Hamas militants and an Islamic Jihad member were killed by Israeli fire. Four mortar shells from Gaza landed near the Sufa crossing, used for humanitarian aid.

Saeb Erekat, a member of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's team negotiating with Israel, described the decision to limit electricity supplies as "collective punishment" and "particularly provocative" given the negotiations.

The patient turned back from Erez on Monday, Mahmud Kamal Abu Taha, was sent back to hospital in Khan Yunis after waiting two-and-a-half hours in an ambulance at the Erez crossing while he was receiving oxygen and on an intravenous drip. Shin Bet agents also arrested his father at the crossing even though he had also been told he had permission to accompany his son to a hospital in Tel Aviv.

In testimony to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, the patient's brother Hani, 34, explained that his brother had lost about a quarter of his body weight, prompting fears for his life after 75 centimetres of his small intestine had been removed when doctors had found a cancerous growth.

He added that, unable to eat, his brother had been fed with four to six doses a day of vitamin solution but that the dosage had been reduced to one because the hospital was suffering a shortage of the solution. He said that specialists decided to transfer him to Tel Hashomer hospital in Israel. He added: "Mahmud is melting away in front of our eyes like a candle."

According to the testimony, his 56-year-old father was summoned to the terminal gate half-an-hour after they arrived at Erez. After a further two-hour wait, the ambulance driver was told that Mr Abu Taha's entry had not been approved. Shin Bet said yesterday that it had been unable to carry out normal security checks on Mr Abu Taha because of a security alert at the crossing.

His father had been arrested because of a suspected connection with "terror activities". The patient would now be allowed into Israel, subject to security checks, if he came to the crossing. But an official of PHR said that, since Gaza was declared "a hostile entity" there had been a "decrease in the number of patients allowed into Israel". Only after rejected cases were exposed in the media or to foreign governments were the patients allowed through.

This is denied by Israel. Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the military's Civil Adminstration said that, in the past two months, three times as many patients had been admitted as in the same period in 2006. "We do more for the Palestinian patients than the Palestinians do themselves," he said.