DOHA - Qatar opened the first prosthetic hospital and a disability rehab centre in the Gaza Strip on Monday, overcoming obstacles that delayed the much-needed project in the besieged Palestinian enclave.
Rafat Lubad, the local director of the hospital, said the facilities are more essential now than ever as more than 130 Palestinians have had amputations over the past year after being shot by Israeli soldiers during protests along the Gaza-Israel perimeter fence.
A Palestinian protest movement has demanded an end to the crippling 12-year blockade that has pushed the Gaza Strip's medical system to the breaking point.
Hamad Hospital, named after the former emir of Qatar, has 100 beds and offers services to people who lost their limbs because of conflict or accidents. Children with hearing impairment or motor disabilities can find treatment in the state-of-the-art, 12,000-square-metre facility.
Qatar proposed the hospital in 2012 when then-Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became the first head of any state to visit Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007 from the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).
Sheikh Hamad pledged more than $400m for infrastructure, housing and relief projects, including the hospital.
But a lack of qualified staff and funding prevented Hamas' health authorities from operating the centre after the building was complete.
Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Gaza to isolate Hamas, and the PA has cut back its spending on the territory of two million people to force Hamas into ceding control.
Eventually, the Qatar Fund for Development assumed the operational expenses - Hamas health officials declined to reveal how much - and trained 150 medical staff locally and abroad to run the hospital, allowing for its opening.
"This hospital was built under the full supervision of [Qatar] ... and in accordance with international standards, to become the largest medical institution for rehabilitation and prosthetic limbs," said Khalifa bin Jassim al-Kuwari, director general of the Qatar Fund.
During the training phase, Qatari doctors financed and carried out 147 cochlear implant operations for people with hearing disabilities. Lubad said each device costs between $40,000 and $50,000.
Another advanced hospital in Gaza has been completed by Turkey, but has since remained out of order because of financial and staff shortages.
Qatar is a political backer for Hamas, which the United States and the European Union classify as a terrorist group.
Although Doha doesn't pay Hamas directly, its support since 2012, totaling $755m, has been a vital lifeline, providing the cash-strapped Gaza government with funds for civilian and infrastructure projects.(FA)