Palestinians: Summit Should Address Closure as Well as Terror
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) _ The suffering caused by Israel’s 17-day-old blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip should get equal attention at a international summit on terror, Palestinians insisted Tuesday.
Israel barred 2 million Palestinians from Israel on Feb. 25, then barricaded them inside their towns in an attempt to keep out suicide bombers and to pressure Yasser Arafat to round up militant Islamic leaders.
Palestinian doctors and human rights activists have blamed the closure for several deaths. On Tuesday, a doctor said a premature baby born at an Israeli army roadblock might have survived had soldiers let his mother get to a hospital in time.
Reports of the baby’s death enraged Palestinians, and their leaders said the closure should be a major issue at Wednesday’s U.S.-sponsored summit on terror in Egypt.
Yasser Arafat will tell the summit that the blockade will only fuel extremism and violence, according to a draft of his speech obtained by The Associated Press.
``Certainly, we will ask to lift all the Israeli measures that have been taken against the Palestinian people,″ said Arafat’s spokesman, Marwan Kanafani.
Israeli officials confirmed Tuesday that Hanan Najajrah, pregnant with twins, was held up for at least 25 minutes at an army roadblock outside her West Bank village, Nahalin.
Mrs. Najajrah said she gave birth to both children at the roadblock Monday; Israeli officials said the first child was delivered at home and the second at the roadblock. Both babies died.
Dr. Samir Asfour, who examined Mrs. Najajrah half an hour after delivery Monday, said there was a ``high probability″ that one of the twins could have been saved with immediate treatment.
Asfour said the twins were born eight weeks premature, weighed less than 3 1/2 pounds each, and would have required immediate treatment in incubators.
``I lost two babies in my own arms,″ said Mrs. Najajrah, 25, lying on a mattress in her family’s home in Nahalin, five miles west of Bethlehem.
The closure and other restrictions have resulted in the deaths of at least two other people, including a month-old boy, according to Palestinian doctors and human rights groups, and have placed many others at risk.
Riyad Zanoun, the Palestinian health minister, said Israel has refused to let polio vaccines for 300,000 Palestinian children through the checkpoints. Israeli civil administration spokesman Shlomo Dror said the vaccines were allowed in Tuesday.
In a statement, the Israeli army said standing orders allowed ambulances to travel freely, if there was prior coordination between doctors and Israeli officials.
A West Bank doctor said the month-old boy died Saturday because his ambulance was held up at a roadblock. On Tuesday, the army said ``there was no causal relationship″ between the infant’s death and the 30-minute delay at the roadblock. Nonetheless, an army officer faced disciplinary charges for showing a lack of sensitivity, the army statement said.
``Closure is the ultimate violence,″ said the top Muslim official in Jerusalem, Mufti Ikrema Sabri.
``If the world wants to discuss only the violence of the Palestinian side, this is unfair,″ he said. ``The conference will not be valuable without discussing the reasons for violence.″
The conference was called after 62 people, including the bombers, died in four suicide attacks in Israel between Feb. 25 and March 4. The meeting is drawing representatives from nearly 30 countries, including President Clinton, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and European and Arab leaders.
Israel says the closure will stay in place until Arafat has crippled Hamas, the militant Islamic group behind the bombings.
The top U.N. official in Gaza, Terje Larsen, said about 80,000 Palestinians were unemployed as a result of the closure. With each breadwinner supporting an average of 11 people, some 880,000 people were directly affected by the restrictions.
``If it continues, it will be like a pressure cooker,″ he said in an interview. ``Over a long period of time, chances for social and political unrest are pretty evident.″
Food and other supplies were not getting in or out of the areas in most cases, although Israel on Tuesday let 30 trucks carrying food pass from Egypt to Gaza.
Dror said Israel would reopen a goods checkpoint in the Gaza Strip for food shipments starting Thursday.