The Palestinian Health Ministry announced on Friday Israel has agreed to vaccinate up to 100,000 Palestinian workers in Israel, following a meeting between Palestinian and Israeli health officials.
Some 30,000 workers have been sleeping in Israel on a daily basis, in a bid to prevent infection by people moving between Israel and the West Bank. However, some officials estimate that many other workers return to the West Bank each day illegally.
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Israel has so far refused to vaccinate any of the Palestinian workers. A Health Ministry statement from February 10 says that Palestinians working in Israel – legally or not – will not be vaccinated against COVID.
According to the ministry's Friday statement, the sides also agreed to work together to curb the spread of new coronavirus variants.
On Saturday, Israeli officials told Haaretz no decision has been made so far, but the issue is being looked into.
The Palestinian Authority also asked Israel to ensure vehicles used by its Health Ministry are free to move around the West Bank, referring particularly to the area of Masafer Yatta, in the South Hebron Hills, where Palestinians say Israel has obstructed health workers' movement.
Israel confirmed earlier on Friday that the Ramallah meeting took place, but said nothing of any agreements having been reached.
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On Thursday, Israel said it would let Palestinian workers in the country return to their West Bank homes starting Sunday, relaxing some restrictions that meant tens of thousands of them had to stay in Israel since the start of its third nationwide lockdown on December 27.
The Defense Ministry's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced the policy change which will allow workers to enter and exit Israel on a daily basis.
So far, the Palestinian Authority has not publicly requested vaccines from Israel and says it has secured its own supply through the World Health Organization and agreements reached with drug makers.
Still, Israel provided 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the PA earlier this month, allowing it to begin vaccinating medical workers, and the PA says it independently acquired 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.
Also on Friday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. "welcome[s] reports of vaccinations in the West Bank and Israel's provision of vaccine for Palestinian healthcare workers in the West Bank, and we welcome it because we believe it's important for Palestinians to achieve increased access to COVID vaccines in the weeks ahead."
Price added, "We are focused on ensuring the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine to the American people. But we know we can't put the scourge of COVID-19 behind us until the world has access to these same safe and effective vaccines. And we know that because we need look no further than the variants to this disease that have emerged."
"So whether it is in the context of the Palestinian territories, whether it is in the context of countries that may have access to that the vaccine through the COVAX facility, which of course the United States pledged an ambitious amount to today – $2 billion immediately, $4 billion over time – this is something that we are working to see happen," Price went on to say.
Hagar Shezaf and the Associated Press contributed to this report.