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Doctor to describe aiding Palestinians in Gaza

Dr. Ismail Mehr, an anesthesiologist at St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell, led a team of American doctors into Gaza following Israel's incursion into the Palestinian territory late last year.

Tonight, he is scheduled to speak at an event in Salvatore's Italian Gardens in the Town of Lancaster to raise money for the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund, which is aiding the children of Gaza.

The fundraiser is sponsored by University at Buffalo Arab Students, the UB Muslim Student Association and the Western New York Peace Center.

Mehr said his team of 11 doctors and two nonmedical personnel, many of them members of Islamic Medical Association of America, were the only Americans allowed into Gaza following Israel's three-week offensive, which began after militants in Gaza fired rockets into southern Israel.

A veteran of treating mass casualties in major disasters, Mehr said being in Gaza was especially disturbing, not because he is a Muslim but because "the whole situation there is a man-made situation, on both sides," referring to both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"I've gone to Banda Aceh [following the 2004 tsunami], to Kashmir; those are all acts of God or acts of nature," he said. "But when it's a man-made conflict, as a human being, a physician, it's really disturbing."

Mehr, like other members of the American Medical Mission to Gaza, is adamant about keeping politics out of the work.

"We were purely apolitical -- humanitarian," he said. "We didn't care who our patients were. You ended up consumed by the situation. We just did our work."

Mehr's team was in Gaza from Jan. 21 until Jan. 31.

"Most of our team dealt with trauma and infection of trauma injuries that weren't taken care of right away," Mehr said.

He wasn't faulting the doctors who had been trying to care for the patients.

"When you're having 200 people an hour coming to your emergency room -- there isn't a hospital in the U.S. that can handle that kind of volume. The injuries included burns and wounds that required amputations," Mehr said.

Mehr said he couldn't help but notice what he believed were the consequences of the two-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on Gaza.

"What really caught us by surprise were the effects of the embargo," he said. "We ended up taking care of people who were not just injured from the war, but were dying of cancer and chronic illnesses who couldn't be treated because they didn't have the medicines and didn't have the medical expertise."


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