"Soldiers prevented passage of ambulances, while threatening the staff and patients with their rifles," said Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) in a statement on Sunday.

The organisation highlighted the case of a Palestinian woman, nine months pregnant, who was on her way to hospital in an ambulance when she was stopped by Israeli troops at a checkpoint.

“She was held there for several hours,” said Miri Weingarten of PHR-Israel. “Eventually, she had to go on foot and walked up the road until another ambulance from outside could meet her.”

Lives risked

In other cases, Weingarten told Aljazeera.net a Palestinian suffering from a dangerous snakebite was barred from continuing his journey.

A Palestinian woman waits at an
Israeli checkpoint near Nablus

Patients due to receive urgent operations were turned back, as were Palestinians needing kidney dialysis treatment.

“Certainly, people’s lives were put at risk,” said Weingarten, "Especially those needing dialysis."

PHR-Israel will submit a formal complaint to the Israeli authorities as well as the World Health Organisation on Monday.

Impunity

But Weingarten notes lack of action in the past has emboldened the Israelis to impose such clampdowns with impunity.

“Before, they used to say that such actions were necessary to prevent a security threat. But now, they don’t even say that. They almost admitted to me it was just to make their operation in the area easier.”

Israeli troops have been sweeping the area after five soldiers on patrol in the centre of Nablus were wounded by an explosive device early on Sunday morning.

The Israeli army made no immediate response. But it has consistently said such cordons are necessary to protect its troops and civilians.

On the other hand, human rights groups have repeatedly condemned barring access to medical attention as a violation of international humanitarian law and medical ethics.