The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) said an initial SFr1 million ($820,000) had also been released for the purchase of medicines for cash-strapped hospitals.

"In the light of the extremely precarious situation that currently prevails... and faced with the danger of a collapse of the public health sector, SDC Humanitarian Aid has decided to allocate SFr1 million in aid and to send experts to conduct an on-the-spot evaluation," said the SDC in a statement.

This assistance is intended mainly for patients with chronic, life-threatening ailments," it added.

The two experts, a doctor and logistician, left Switzerland on Sunday to carry out the week-long mission to Gaza and the West Bank.

Their task is to identify the most urgent requirements in the public health sector and to put in place a system for distributing medicines.

The SFr1 million funding will be made available with immediate effect, added the SDC, and will finance the purchase of medicines in 22 hospitals.

Suppliers will be paid directly and the material will be allocated and distributed in close cooperation with the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and other bodies.

Suspended aid

The decision to offer emergency medical assistance comes at a time when the European Union and the United States have temporarily suspended direct aid to the Palestinian territories, following the formation of a Hamas-led government. They still give humanitarian aid.

The EU, formerly the biggest donor in the region, says it cannot fund the radical Islamic group unless it renounces violence, recognises Israel, and commits to past peace agreements.

In April, Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger was criticised by Israel and Swiss Jewish groups for speaking out against the boycott.

Leuenberger told the Arab news channel, Al-Jazeera, that it would have been more "reasonable" to grant Hamas a probationary period to prove itself.

The withdrawal of key international donors has plunged the government into a financial crisis and tensions on the streets have increased in recent weeks.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week threatened to call a vote on Palestinian borders if rival factions - his own Fatah party and Hamas - cannot agree a political programme.