TORONTO - The federal government should rethink their resistance to bringing severely injured children from war-torn Gaza to Canada for the medical treatment they desperately need, a high-profile Palestinian doctor organizing the effort said Monday.
Izzeldin Abuelaish, whose three daughters died in the 2009 conflict in Gaza, is urging Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to support a proposal to allow 100 wounded kids into Ontario, which is willing to treat them.
It has nothing to do with politics, the university professor said. There’s an ethical and moral responsibility to help in times of need.
“Don’t deprive the Canadian people, the Canadian professionals of this opportunity,” Abuelaish said in an interview. “Don’t let it down.”
Only Ottawa can provide the necessary visas for the children and their guardians, but the federal government suggests it may be better for Canadian doctors to travel to Gaza instead.
“Make no mistake, there is only one party responsible for the suffering of the Palestinian people, and that is the international terrorist group Hamas,” Baird’s spokesman Adam Hodge said in an email.
“Hamas’s reckless aggression continues to put Palestinian lives at risk by impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza.”
The government is considering how best to deploy Canadian resources to assist, such as increasing capacity at hospitals in Gaza, Jordan and Israel, as well as field hospitals, to treat the wounded, Hodge said.
“It also includes providing ways for doctors wishing to treat those injured in the conflict — Israeli and Palestinian alike — to provide their services in hospitals abroad, in a way that would allow them to grow local medical capacity there, transfer their medical expertise to the local population, and help injured innocents avoid the medical risks and dangers of being transported overseas.”
But Abuelaish said it would be difficult to ensure the safety of Canadian doctors in Gaza, whose health-care system is severely damaged and overloaded with injured civilians, including thousands of children.
“It’s urgent,” he said. “These children are in need.”
They would only take children who are stable enough to travel, Abuelaish said. The children would stay for a month or more until they’re well enough to go back.
Many of them suffer from burns, amputations, disfigurements and other injuries that could receive the specialized care that wouldn’t be available to them in Gaza, he said.
“This is humanitarian, Canadian, it’s not ethnic, religious or any political cause,” Abuelaish added. “It’s Canadian, under one flag — the red Maple Leaf flag.”
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, a physician who has worked in war zones, said the province is willing to treat injured children from Gaza and Israel. Five hospitals, including Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, have said they’re ready to help.
Israeli and Palestinian authorities have also indicated that they’re willing to co-operate, he said.
But the federal government and other relevant parties must clear a number of logistical hurdles first, Hoskins said.
“These include arranging for exit visas and the security clearance of any adults travelling with each child,” he said in a statement.
“It has been our goal from the beginning to identify kids who have specific and complex medical needs that cannot be met where they live.”
Abuelaish, now an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, was born and raised in Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, according to the university’s website. In 2010, he published an autobiography, “I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey.”
Canada can start a worldwide humanitarian movement by taking in just 100 wounded children from Gaza, he said.
Baird hasn’t replied to his requests for a meeting to talk about the matter, but Abuelaish said he feels sure there’s goodwill to make it a success.
It will pain him if his efforts go nowhere, he said. He wanted it to be a gift to his daughters, who were killed in an Israeli attack.
“But I will say to them, I am sad, I tried,” he said. “I did my best. But as we all know, life is what we make it, always has been, always will be. It’s in our hands.”
The month-long war between the Israeli military and rocket-firing Hamas militants has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority civilians, according to Palestinian and United Nations officials. In Israel, 67 people have been killed, all but three of them soldiers, officials there say.
A temporary truce halting the fighting is currently in effect as negotiators from both sides resume indirect talks in Egypt on reaching a long-term ceasefire.
— with files from The Associated Press.
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