WHO says patient dies amid lengthy Israeli checks on Gaza convoy

GENEVA: The WHO said Tuesday that a patient died in an emergency convoy en route to a Gaza City hospital during repeated and lengthy Israeli checks, adding that health workers were detained and abused.

The World Health Organisation headed a convoy at the weekend to deliver essential trauma and surgical supplies to the badly damaged Al-Ahli hospital and to evacuate critical patients.

It said Tuesday that the mission had managed to deliver enough surgical supplies to treat 1,500 patients and had transferred out 19 critical cases with 14 companions to the Nasser Medical Complex in southern Gaza, where they can receive higher level of care.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on X, formerly Twitter, that the agency was "deeply concerned about prolonged checks and detention of health workers that put lives of already fragile patients at risk".

"Due to the hold-up, one patient died en route, given the grave nature of their wounds and the delay in accessing treatment," he said.

Richard Peeperkorn, the World Health Organisation's representative in the Palestinian territories who participated in the convoy voiced alarm at the way the checks were conducted.

It was first stopped at the Wadi Gaza checkpoint while heading north to the hospital, with two Palestinian Red Crescent (PRCS) staff members detained for over an hour.

"We witnessed that one of the staff was made to kneel at gunpoint," he told reporters in Geneva via video link from Gaza.

As the convoy headed into Gaza City, it was struck by bullets, he said.

Then, as the convoy transported the critical patients from Al-Ahli south, the convoy was stopped again, and nearly everyone was ordered out for security checks.

One of the same PRCS staff members detained on the way north was taken away for questioning and held for hours, Peeperkorn said, adding: "His story is harrowing".

"He informed us he was harassed, beaten, threatened, and even stripped of his uniform, blindfolded, hands tied behind his back and treated in a degrading and a humiliating manner," he said.

"The humiliation and inhumane treatments he was subjected to is rather shocking."

Peeperkorn also highlighted that the whereabouts of four health workers seized off a similar convoy on November 18, was still unknown.

"There is no updates since then... That's simply unacceptable."

His comments came as Israel presses on with its bombardment of Gaza, more than two months after Hamas's October 7 attacks killed 1,200 people inside Israel and saw around 240 people taken hostage, according to Israeli figures.

Israel's offensive has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 18,200 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The UN estimates 1.9 million of the territory's 2.4 million people have been displaced by the war, half of them children.

Humanitarian leaders fear the besieged territory will soon be overwhelmed by disease and starvation.

During Saturday's mission, WHO said its staff described Al-Ahli hospital, which has suffered "substantial damage" during the hostilities, as being in a state of "utter chaos and a humanitarian disaster zone".

Peeperkorn said that the team had planned to stay for at least two hours, but due to the checkpoint delays "we only had 15 minutes".

But what they had time to see was deeply disturbing, he said, describing extreme overcrowding, with numerous displaced people and over 200 patients crammed into a hospital with only enough resources to support 40 beds.

WHO said doctors at the hospital had warned the situation was "beyond control", amid acute shortages of oxygen, essential medical supplies, water, food and fuel, and a dire need for additional health personnel. -- AFP

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