WHO: Israel turning away sick Gazans, who die in 'avoidable tragedies'
UN agency also notes that number of Gazans treated in Israel rises from 5,000 in 2006 to 7,000 in 2007.
Israel has turned away more sick Palestinians from Gaza seeking treatment since Hamas seized control of the coastal strip and several have died each month unnecessarily, a United Nations agency said on Tuesday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Israel denied entry permits to 18.5 percent of patients seeking to leave the Gaza Strip in 2007 versus 10 percent in 2006.
In absolute terms, however, the number of patients from Gaza who were treated in Israel substantially increased, rising from nearly 5,000 in 2006 to 7,000 in 2007.
1,627 Gazan patients saw their requests denied in 2007, as opposed to the aproximate 470 who were denied treatment in 2006, according to WHO figures.
The WHO said the number of applicants and the percentage of those turned away surged after Hamas Islamists seized control of Gaza in June, the crossing to Egypt was closed and Israel tightened restrictions on the territory.
Israel could not provide figures for how many sick Gazans were granted travel permits last year. A senior defence official denied the system caused unnecessary death, but said Israel was wary of would-be suicide bombers using illness as a cover.
Israel last year imposed a blockade on Gaza in response to cross-border rocket fire by militants. International organizations have condemned the measure as collective punishment.
"Even under fire and under threat we still coordinate the health needs of Gaza's population," said Colonel Nir Press, head of Israel's Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza.
Shortages of medicine, equipment and trained medics, which local officials blame on Israeli restrictions, mean advanced health care is virtually non-existent in the Gaza Strip.
Thousands of Gazans have been treated over the years in Israel.
The WHO said 32 Gazans died between October 1 and March 2 while waiting for travel permits.
It could not provide comparative figures and said it was hard to measure whether faster treatment would have saved them, characterizing many of the deaths as unnecessary.
"All these tragedies could have been easily avoided," WHO's head of office for the West Bank and Gaza, Ambrogio Manenti, told a news conference. Palestinian medical officials in Gaza say more than 100 Gaza patients have died since June after being denied permits.
Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but effectively still controls its borders, in cooperation with Egypt, which administers the Sinai-Gaza border.
Egypt has allowed some Gazans in for treatment, but has agreed with Israel to keep its border largely closed.
Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Office released a statement detailing the humanitarian aid and supplies transferred to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Approximately 138 trucks brought foodstuffs such as meat, wheat and sugar, as well as cleaning products and school books to the coastal strip.