Marzouq Mo’amar’s smile has returned to his face after he had almost lost hope because of thyroid cancer that had spread to his neck. Just a few weeks ago Palestinian doctors at the Gaza European Hospital in southern Gaza, were able to perform a life-saving surgery for the 62-year-old from Rafah.

‘I risked my life undergoing surgery under such hard circumstances with no proper medical care and inadequate medical staff as well as a crippling closure,’ Mo’amar said while sitting at his house in the Alghosain tribe’s village in Rafah city in the south of the Gaza Strip.

‘When I decided to undergo surgery, despite all the risks involved, I had no choice because I have no travel document,’ Mo’amar explained.

‘However, Thank God, for God has saved my life, with the help of great local doctors and under extraordinary conditions in the besieged Gaza Strip. I appeal to all free human beings in the world to stand by Gaza’s patients who die one after another because of the Israeli closure,’ the recovering Mo’amar said.

The surgery on Mo’amar’s tumor was the first of its kind in many years, because of Gaza’s poor health services during the last four decades of Israeli military occupation. The surgery took place despite a lack of essential medical equipment and staff that has worsened since one year ago when Israel tightened its siege on the coastal territory, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

Dr. Ehab Zayyan, a young head and neck surgeon from Gaza City, led the difficult and risky eight-hour operation.

‘We used to undertake other smaller surgeries for hazardous ear infections, and they proved successful, but this tumor surgery was the first of its type,’ Dr. Zayyan said, ‘Thank God we were successful and our patient’s condition is stable.’

Dr. Zayyan added, ‘The Gaza European Hospital is modernized and we have the right equipment,’ but ‘what is required is more trained and qualified medical staff. With more staff I am confident we could stop sending our patients abroad.’

Khaled Radi, a spokesman of the Health Ministry in Gaza, run by the Hamas government elected in January 2006, said that the medical situation has deteriorated since Israel tightened the siege. Many foreign medical experts who used to visit Gaza to perform critical surgeries have stopped coming he explained. ‘There was an agreement with 31 Egyptian professors to come to Gaza to train our local stuff, but they were unable to come because of the current conditions,’ Radi said.

Although the Israeli closure has hampered much essential equipment from reaching Gaza, Radi said that the health ministry was able to install an MRI scanner. ‘What we are concerned about nowadays is ensuring the essential medical care for our patients.’

According to medical sources in Gaza, more than 180 Gaza patients, who needed urgent medical care or life-saving treatment have died so far due to the tight Israeli closure of Gaza’s travel and commercial crossings over the past year.

The death toll is on the rise, as the Rafah crossing remains closed, which was the only outlet for many of Gaza patients to reach hospitals across the border in Egypt.

‘Thank God, my health is more than okay now, but I am appealing to all those concerned to solve the problem of many patients like myself, who are in need of life-saving treatment,’ Mo’mar said while kissing his hand, a sign of thanksgiving in Gaza culture.

Rami Almeghari is contributor to The Electronic Intifada, and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor-in-chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari A T hotmail D O T com.