Israeli Surgeons Repair Young Palestinians' Hearts

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Her lower lip quivering with every breath, Hala Ketnani, a 10-month-old girl from Gaza, sleeps in an Israeli intensive care unit as she recovers from heart surgery.

She was unable to have the operation in Gaza, where many hospitals are suffering from worsening conditions since a Western aid embargo was imposed to pressure the Hamas-led Palestinian government to recognize Israel.

Under the private Israeli program "Save a Child's Heart," doctors at Wolfson Hospital in Holon repair congenital heart defects for children like Ketnani from the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Jordan and Africa.

More than 1,000 children have been helped so far by the program.

"I'm so happy to see the color returning to Hala's cheeks," said the baby's grandmother, Raisa Ketnani, 65. "I am very thankful."

Israeli soldiers and settlers quit Gaza in 2005, but a substantial number of Palestinians still rely on either Israel or neighboring Egypt for humanitarian needs such as medicine.

The need has risen in the past year with a drop in medical care levels in Gaza and the West Bank since Hamas took office and Western nations cut off direct funds to the Palestinian Authority.

Though it generally denies entry to Palestinians since the second intifada began in 2000, Israel says it eases the restrictions when it comes to medical care.

Shlomo Dror, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said about 1,000 Palestinians per month receive medical treatment in Israel, up from 600 in recent years.

Entry permits for children in need of medical attention in Israel are usually approved in a matter of days, although adults are subject to security screening, Dror says.

Israel has stepped up the screening since a recent suicide bombing at a Gaza checkpoint by a woman who had sought medical care in Israel, and a bomb found on another woman, Dror said.

Over the past year, "Save a Child's Heart" has treated more than 100 children from Gaza and the West Bank, and hundreds from elsewhere in the region, including a growing number from Iraq.

Founded in 1995 by the late U.S.-born cardiologist Amram Cohen, the program has expanded to include training for Palestinians and other doctors in pediatric cardiac surgery.

"We believe every child deserves the best possible medical care," said the director, Simon Fisher.

Medicine, he said, is a logical common denominator to help bridge differences between Israelis and Palestinians.



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