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Palestinians protest closure of UNRWA hospital in Qalqiliya

Aug. 13, 2017 2:36 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 13, 2017 6:15 P.M.)
QALQILIYA (Ma'an) -- Palestinians demonstrated outside of a hospital run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) on Saturday to denounce the recent closure of an UNRWA-run hospital in the northern occupied West Bank city of Qalqiliya.

All wings of the hospital, with the exception of the emergency room, have been ordered closed since Friday, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness confirmed to Ma’an.

“The suspension of ENT (ears, nose, and throat), childbirth, and cold cases services at Qalqiliya Hospital is linked to an ongoing investigation,” Gunness said, without providing further details.

However, Kathem Abu Khalaf, the political and local affairs advisor for UNRWA’s director of operations, told Ma’an on Sunday that the obstetrics department was the only one to be closed, adding that it would be reopened at the end of the internal investigation.

Abu Khalaf stated that all other departments would continue to operate normally -- contrary to Gunness’ statement -- and that pregnant women would still be admitted to the obstetrics department if their lives were in danger.

Najib Nitham, the head of the Palestinian doctors’ syndicate, told Ma’an that a UNRWA representative had notified the hospital administration on Thursday that the obstetrics department would be shut down the next day, before stating a day later that all other wards, except the ER, would be shut down by Aug. 21.

In response to the decision, locals protested outside of the hospital, as the head of the Qalqiliya subcommittee of the Palestinian doctors' syndicate, Ramez Abdullah, told Ma'an that the committee had called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Minister of Health Jawad Awwad, and human rights groups to intervene to get UNRWA to go back on its decision.

Nitham called UNRWA’s decision “not carefully thought out,” stating that the 63-bed medical center served tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the Qalqiliya district.

The closure, Nitham said, leaves only one hospital functioning in Qalqiliya City, severely impacting the ability to treat patients in the Qalqiliya district.

The UNRWA hospital also represented a right for refugees "who had been displaced from their lands," Nitham added, calling the closure unjustifiable.

"What could be the goal behind leaving refugees without medical treatment and medical services?" he asked.

UNRWA, established to provide direct relief and work programs to the 700,000 Palestinians who were displaced in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, now serves some five million Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA has experienced a severe financial crisis in recent years, as member countries have cut their contributions amid a deepening refugee crisis. As funds to the agency have been slashed, UNRWA has also faced criticism from Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory and neighboring countries over the agency’s shrinking services.
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