Amid Growing Public Pressure, Palestinian Authority Set to Lift Coronavirus Restrictions

Reopening of houses of worship, shops and factories across the West Bank will coincide with the last day of the Eid El-Fitr holiday

Jack Khoury
Reuters
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Gamal Abdel Nasser mosque is seen closed during Friday prayers over concerns of the spread of the coronavirus, Ramallah, March 20, 2020.
Gamal Abdel Nasser mosque is seen closed during Friday prayers over concerns of the spread of the coronavirus, Ramallah, March 20, 2020. Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ Reuters
Jack Khoury
Reuters

Mosques, churches and businesses in the West Bank will reopen on Tuesday in an easing of coronavirus restrictions, Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said on Monday.

The PA declared a health emergency in March and imposed lockdowns after the first cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

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Shtayyeh said it was time to "cautiously return life to normal" now that infection rates had slowed.

The announcement of the plan to ease restrictions was made in part due to great public pressure, with criticism that the Palestinian government is contiuing to take draconian measures, even though almost all of the Palestinian territory in the West Bank was declared free of the virus, besides East Jerusalem and the Hebron area. 

The reopening of houses of worship, shops and factories on Tuesday will coincide with the last day of the Eid El-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

On Sunday, there were dozens of attempts in several cities to open the mosques, going against the current ban on doing so, resulting in Palestinian police allowing open-air prayer.

Shtayyeh said that government ministries and offices would reopen on Wednesday and that checkpoints set up to limit traffic between West Bank cities would be removed.

In his remarks, which come a week after the Palestinian Authority announced it would cease security coordination with Israel in response to Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, Shtayyeh barely addressed the issue of cooperation with Israel. He did, however, emphasize that the police and Palestinian security forces would remove all barriers separating cities and districts to allow free movement.

As was known last week, Shtayyeh ordered the removal of checkpoints as part of the end to cooperation, although a large amount of these were set up during the coronavirus crisis.

Fatah activists told Haaretz that, to date, there has been no significant change regarding the halt to coordination with Israel, which is probably also related to the end of Ramadan. "From this week I will see if there is a change, and one of the signs [that there hasn't been a change] is the entry of Israeli forces into the cities and villages without tension with the Palestinian forces due to the coordination that existed, but this week we will see how much that has really been stopped."

The PA has made it clear that everything would continue as usual as long as the annexation process did not take place. However, it now fears an Israeli response to the halt to cooperation, which could mainly hurt civil services. 

The Palestinian Health Ministry has confirmed 423 cases of the new coronavirus in the West Bank and two deaths.

The health crisis has led to a 50 percent fall in commercial revenues in the West Bank, in a blow to an already ailing economy in which unemployment is at 17.6 percent, local officials said.

In the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Palestinian Authority's rival, the Islamist group Hamas, 54 coronavirus cases and one death have been recorded.

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