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Israeli hospital tries to protect Palestinian girl

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli rehabilitation centre is defying a government order to transfer a Palestinian girl paralyzed in an Israeli attack on militants to a hospital in the occupied West Bank.

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Maria Amin, who turns six on Thursday, cannot get the care she needs in the Palestinian facility -- “so she won’t be going anywhere” until her well-being is assured, said Shirley Meyer of the Alyn Hospital Rehabilitation Centre in Jerusalem.

Maria was paralyzed from the neck down when the car she was traveling in was caught in a missile attack on a leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza in May last year. Her mother, grandmother and older brother were killed.

She was taken for treatment to Israel where the Defence Ministry covered her medical expenses and sponsored her father and younger brother to live with her at the hospital. She has now completed a rehabilitation program.

Now the ministry says it is time for her to go. It has promised to pay for an apartment for the girl and her surviving family in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where she would be under the medical care of the Abu Raya Rehabilitation Centre.

But Meyer is not satisfied. “I spoke with staff from Abu Raya and they told me they are not trained or equipped to handle Maria’s care,” she told Reuters.

Hamdi Amin, Maria’s father, has appealed against the ministry order and Israel’s Supreme Court has said she cannot be transferred until a hearing is held next month.

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Maria is able to move around in a wheelchair controlled by a joystick she guides with her chin, but her doctors say she will remain paralyzed from the neck down and be dependent on a respirator to help her breathe for the rest of her life.

“I want to stay here and build a house here. I don’t want to leave,” Maria said in Hebrew, which she learned during her hospital stay.

At Alyn Hospital, Maria’s treatments include weekly hydrotherapy sessions in a pool and computer therapy.

The Defence Ministry said in a statement that moving Maria to the Palestinian hospital would allow her to reintegrate into “an environment that is natural for her”. It said the Abu Raya facility “can meet all of Maria’s needs”.

Adi Lustigman, Amin’s lawyer, said Israel was mistaken if it feared that allowing Maria to stay would encourage other Palestinians hurt in Israeli attacks to seek long-term medical treatment in the Jewish state.

“Because of the uniqueness of this case, the severity of the injuries and what happened to her family, the defence department can decide to help her without worrying about setting a precedent,” Lustigman said.