By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - Gaza's Health Ministry accused Israel on Thursday of delaying the entry of several X-ray machines needed to treat patients in the blockaded Palestinian territory.
The ministry, run by the Gaza Strip's ruling Islamist group Hamas, said requests in the past 14 months for eight different types of X-ray machines and spare parts to repair existing equipment had been rejected or delayed.
Dozens of other X-ray machines were allowed into the impoverished coastal enclave during the same period.
Israel, which together with Egypt maintains a blockade around Gaza citing security concerns, says it is worried about militant groups commandeering such machines for military purposes.
Health Ministry Director Medhat Abbas said the equipment was funded by international relief and medical institutions on behalf of hospitals in Gaza. "Holding back the entry of that equipment caused a delay in providing medical services to thousands of patients," Abbas told Reuters.
Responding to his remarks, Israel's military-run COGAT liaison agency accused Hamas and other militant groups of "systematically and cynically taking advantage of humanitarian and civilian shipments of equipment and goods for terrorist purposes".
Requests for such equipment, COGAT told Reuters, are examined on a case-by-case basis.
Abbas said Israeli assertions about the medical equipment having dual uses were a lie.
At Gaza City's Shifa hospital, Nalat Zeino, 51, said she had been waiting 45 days o have an X-ray done for her kidneys. Doctors blamed the delay on the withholding of equipment.
"As if the pain I am feeling wasn't enough - waiting has been another form of torture," the mother of four told Reuters outside the X-ray unit.
Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by Israel and much of the West, took control of Gaza in 2006, a year after Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers.
The ensuing blockade limiting the amount of goods crossing in and out has crippled Gaza's economy and health care system, which suffers from a chronic shortage of hospital beds and medical equipment.
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)