The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) executive board will hold a rare emergency session on Dec 10 to discuss the health crisis in Gaza and the West Bank, with the Palestinian envoy seeking more medical aid and access for foreign healthcare workers.
The WHO confirmed yesterday it had received a request from 15 countries to hold the session, which will be convened by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in consultation with the Qatari chair.
The Palestinian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, said the meeting would focus mostly on Gaza, engulfed by war between its Hamas rulers and Israel, but also cover attacks on the health sector in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
“We want to empower the WHO and call for the Israeli side not to target the medical sector. We want to allow for fresh medical supplies,” he told Reuters, adding that his diplomatic mission was drafting a motion to be reviewed by the board.
“One idea is to send more doctors in from around the world,” he added, saying many countries had offered. The “Occupied Palestinian Territory” is a WHO observer rather than a member state but has influence in the organisation through supporters.
Israel said the session was an example of the “double standards and disproportionate attention towards Israel in the multilateral arena”.
Only a fraction of Gaza’s hospitals remain operational due to Israeli bombings and a lack of fuel, and those that are still functioning are increasingly overwhelmed by a new wave of wounded arriving. A WHO database shows there have been 427 attacks on healthcare facilities in Palestinian territories since the October first week cross-border Hamas storming of Israel, and the latter’s retaliatory aerial blitz and invasion of Gaza. The database does not touch on who is seen as responsible for the attacks.
Israel has accused Hamas of using ordinary Gazans as human shields by placing command centres and weapons inside hospitals and other civilian buildings.
A senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday Israel would facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilians as fighting there resumed after a week-long truce collapsed.
The WHO has also warned of spreading disease which it has said could kill more people than bombardments in Gaza, with diarrhoea cases among children rising to about 100 times normal levels. As many as 80% of Gaza’s 2.3mn people have fled their homes, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA says.
The WHO’s governing board is made up of 34 members and typically meets every January to fix the agenda for its annual assembly. Membership is split among regional groups and the US, Qatar, Senegal, Australia and China are among seat holders.
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