First Batch of COVID Vaccines Arrives in Gaza After Israel Approves Transfer

Shipment from West Bank includes some 1,000 Sputnik V vaccines donated by Russia to the Palestinian Authority

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A Palestinian health worker holds swab samples collected to test for Covid-19 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip earlier this month
A Palestinian health worker holds swab samples collected to test for COVID-19 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip earlier this monthCredit: Said Khatib/AFP

One thousand Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines arrived in Gaza on Wednesday from the Palestinian Authority after Israel approved the transfer. These are the first vaccines to arrive in the Strip.

The vaccines were donated by Russia, and transferred with the approval of the Palestinian Authority.

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The vaccines travelled from the Beitunia border crossing in the West Bank to the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Gaza.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority traded barbs over Israel's postponement of the transfer of 2,000 vaccines from the West Bank to Gaza on Monday.

The Palestinian Authority finished administering the vaccine to medical teams under its jurisdiction in the West Bank and sought to transfer 2,000 Sputnik V vaccines to the Gaza Strip on Monday, intended for medical personnel in the coastal territory, but that Israel halted the shipment at a West Bank checkpoint.

Palestinian Health Minister Mai Kaila blamed Israel for blocking the supply of vaccines that the PA had allocated to Gaza. “Israel bears full responsibility for this arbitrary move, that contravenes every value and international law,” she said.

She added that the Health Ministry in Ramallah had contacted international organizations asking that they pressure Israel to allow the vaccines into Gaza immediately. An Israeli security official told Reuters that the PA's request to send the doses was "still being examined" and that "an approval hasn't yet been given".

The body charged with approving the transfer is Israel's national security council, part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, the Israeli security official said.

Netanyahu's office did not immediately provide comment.

In the debate on the matter, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Zvi Hauser opposed the request during a committee hearing Monday. “I doubt that the vaccines will be given to medical teams,” he said. “I don’t see [Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar giving his vaccine to a merciful nurse. I assume they will go first to Hamas leaders, those who are responsible for the kidnapping of Israelis.”

The West Bank has received 12,000 doses of vaccine so far: 10,000 from Russia and 2,000 Moderna doses from Israel, which is supposed to supply a further 3,000 doses to the Palestinian Authority imminently. PA officials say they submitted the transfer request to Israeli defense authorities soon after receiving the initial shipment of 10,000 Russian doses on February 4.

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