by Khaled Abu Toameh
Palestinian patients in the Gaza Strip have become the latest victims of the ongoing power struggle between the two Palestinian governments of Fatah and Hamas.
Until recently, the two governments used to blame Israel for the shortage of various types of medicine in the Gaza Strip: spokesmen for the Hamas and Fatah governments claimed that the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip was depriving the ill of many badly-needed medicines.
This week, the two rival Palestinian governments held each other -- not Israel -- responsible for the health crisis in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian government in the West Bank, headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, announced that Hamas had been stealing or hiding most of the medicine that was sent to the Gaza Strip. Many Palestinians are believed to have died because of the lack of drugs and medical equipment.
According to the Fayyad government, Hamas militiamen have been confiscating shipments of medical supplies donated by the international communities and later offering the medical supplies for sale.
The medical supplies are sent first to the West Bank, where the Fayyad government is responsible for distributing them to Palestinians, including those living in the Gaza Strip.
Some Palestinians residents of the Gaza Strip and Western aid workers have confirmed the Fayyad government's allegations, saying that Hamas has indeed been confiscating most of the medical supplies that are sent from the West Bank – putting the lives of many patients at risk.
Hamas, for its part, has retorted by leveling similar charges against the Fayyad government. According to Hamas spokesmen, if anyone is to blame for the severe crisis in the Gaza Strip's hospitals and clinics it is the Fayyad government.
Hamas claims that the Fayyad government has been using the medicine to "blackmail" Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in a bid to undermine the Islamic movement's regime.
A spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip accused Fayyad and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of using medical supplies as a tool to fight Hamas and punish Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians have paid a heavy price because of the continued power struggle between their two governments – a dispute that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Palestinians over the past three and a half years.
Hamas and Fatah have been fighting their war on many fronts – at universities, colleges, mosques, labor unions, media outlets and detention centers.
In the West Bank, Palestinian security forces arrest almost every day countless people on suspicion of being affiliated with Hamas. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas has also been cracking down on Fatah, throwing many of the faction's supporters into prison.
Now it seems that Hamas and Fatah have decided to take their battle to a new front: hospitals and clinics. Palestinian patients have become the new victims of the dispute between the two sides.
Khaled Abu Toameh
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