Fears for Gaza hospitals as UN agency warns aid ‘grinding to a halt’

Geneva Abdul

Human Rights Watch has called on the German government to provide a public explanation for issuing a Schengen-wide ban on a prominent London surgeon who has provided testimony on the ongoing war in Gaza, as he is blocked from entering the Netherlands later this month.

Last week, Prof Ghassan Abu-Sitta told the Guardian he felt criminalised after being denied entry to France over the weekend, where the plastic and reconstructive surgeon was due to speak about the war to the French parliament’s upper house.

“Germany should immediately explain why it has denied him entry and imposed this far-reaching ban on a leading health professional to speak in Berlin, Paris, and The Hague about what he witnessed in Gaza,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday.

During October and November 2023, at the beginning of Israel’s war in Gaza, which has since killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, Abu-Sitta operated from al-Shifa and al-Ahli hospitals. During his 43 days, he described witnessing a “massacre unfold” in Gaza and the use of white phosphorus munitions, which Israel has denied.

Abu-Sitta has since provided evidence to Scotland Yard and the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague. He intends to challenge his entry ban in the German courts and is considering going to the European court of human rights.

The Palestinian ambassador has invited Sitta to attend an event in the Hague on the 76th anniversary of Nakba Day on 15 May. However, Sitta told HRW that Dutch officials informed the Palestinian ambassador to the Netherlands that he would not be permitted to enter for the event.

However, Sitta was told he would be considered for entry for a meeting with the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), where Sitta plans to brief the director general on the use of white phosphorus by Israeli forces, which Israel has denied using. Entry for the meeting would be permitted, Sitta was told, on the condition that he leaves immediately after.

In April, Abu-Sitta travelled to Berlin to participate in the Palestine Congress forum, where he was denied entry by authorities because they “could not ensure the safety of attendees in the conference”, he said. The Guardian previously approached the German federal police for comment.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the German government on April 24 asking for an explanation in line with the country’s obligations to freedom of expression, assembly and nondiscrimination. The organisation did not receive a response and has also called on the UK and Scottish governments to apply pressure on the German government, explaining the legality of the Schengen-wide visa ban.

“In the midst of ongoing atrocities in Gaza, countries should be prioritizing ending complicity and promoting accountability,” Ahmed said. “Instead, Germany, in blocking Dr. Abu Sittah from sharing his experience, is trying to block citizens from even hearing about the grave abuses taking place in Gaza. The UK government should immediately raise the reported ban with their German counterparts.”

(Source: The Guardian)