Gaza patients denied entry to West Bank over 'letterhead'
Published Wednesday 12/02/2014 (updated) 13/02/2014 22:05
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities on Wednesday prevented a large group of patients from the Gaza Strip from traveling to the West Bank for medical treatment because the letterhead of their referral letters included the phrase "State of Palestine."
Seventy patients who were scheduled to travel to the West Bank via the Erez crossing for treatment were denied entry because they presented documents including the "State of Palestine" on the letterheads, according to sources in the Palestinian liaison department.
"The Israelis have prevented 70 sick people who need to go to Israeli hospitals from crossing Erez because it said 'State of Palestine' on their transfer request," said a senior Palestinian official at the Gaza district coordination office (DCO).
"It was only this week that they informed me personally that Israel refuses to deal with this document," he told AFP.
"This is a political decision from the Israelis to exert pressure in the negotiations," he charged, referring to US-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
A senior official from the Ramallah-based health ministry, who is in charge of external treatment requests, said it was the first time since mid-December that patients had been refused a permit on the basis of the logo on the medical transfer request.
"The Israeli side informed us that following a decision from COGAT, they won't give any permits to any patients with that logo," he said.
Since mid-December, between 40 and 70 patients a day had crossed for medical treatment in Israel or the West Bank, he said, saying all of the transfer requests had been marked with the "State of Palestine" logo.
A spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit responsible for coordinating civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, confirmed that the permits had been refused because they were submitted on stationary bearing the problematic logo.
"Upon receiving the documents stamped 'State of Palestine', it was decided to return them to the DCO without considering them and demand they be refiled in the accepted way," he said in a statement sent to AFP.
Sources at the Palestinian liaison department confirmed to Ma'an that as of Wednesday, patients from Gaza who present referral letters with the "State of Palestine" written on the letterhead would be denied entry to the West Bank.
The PLO declared independence unilaterally in 1988 and was recognized as a "non-member observer state" by the United Nations in 2012.
More than 130 countries today recognize Palestine's existence as a state, but Israel refuses to do so.
AFP contributed to this report.