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Israel criticised for thwarting medical mission to Palestinian territories

Vikram Dodd | The Guardian

7 July 2009

Israel was yesterday criticised after it refused to allow a group of doctors on a humanitarian mission organised by the French government to enter Gaza.

The team, including three British medics, was turned back by Israeli border guards on Sunday and Monday. They say their mission is purely humanitarian, aimed to helping those in medical need, and some of whom were left injured and in need of surgery after Israel’s attack on Gaza earlier this year.

One of the Britons refused entry to Gaza, Sonia Robbins, who is a reconstructive plastic surgeon, said: “I don’t know why we are being refused permission to enter.

“The consequences are that patients will not be operated on, children will have to wait until next time for surgery, and that won’t happen until six months time.

“I think it is unacceptable to refuse a humanitarian mission.”

The team had tried to enter through the Erez crossing. Robbins said she had been allowed to work in Gaza before. She said the team of nine medics were concentrating on surgery to the upper limbs, and that their papers to gain entry into Gaza were all in order. She added the border guards had been courteous as they refused the medical team permission to enter Gaza, where as well as treating the injured, they would help teach Palestinian doctors.

The mission is organised by the French doctor Professor Christophe Oberlin. His lawyer has sent a letter to the Israeli defence ministry, demanding an explanation, and wrote: “The purpose of their meeting was for the both teams, to hold activities together of medical consultation, surgery and teaching.”

The letter says the denial of entry to the medical team amounts to Israel violating “the basic international humanitarian law principles, the obligations of Israel as the occupying power of the occupied territories, [and] its obligations under the international covenant of civil and political rights and the convention on the rights of the child.”