Israel and the Palestinian Authority have traded barbs over Israel's postponement of the transfer of 2,000 vaccines from the West Bank to Gaza on Monday, as the besieged enclave awaits its first doses of the coronavirus inoculation.
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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.
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Meanwhile, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Zvi Hauser opposed the request during a committee hearing Monday. “I doubt that the vaccines will be give 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.”
West Bank rollout
The Palestinian Authority has also been "forced to postpone" its own rollout to the general public in the West Bank with supply running dry, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a cabinet meeting on Monday.
“We will announce a new date shortly, when the PA gets more doses from a few countries and international agencies," he added.
He added that the vaccines would first be given to the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, followed by workers in the education system.
However, the Palestinian Authority has come under fire by locals for its lack of transparency in vaccine allocation, with priority given to the associates of key PA officials.
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.
A representative of the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Col. Eyal Zeevi, told the hearing that within two weeks the PA would be given Pfizer vaccines for 18,000 people in the West Bank and Gaza, along with vaccines for 20 percent of the population expected to be provided by the World Health Organization and two million does from AstraZeneca. According to Zeevi, “The Palestinian Authority bears exclusive responsibility for administering the vaccines.”
According to an announcement Monday by Health Ministry in Ramallah, there had been 761 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, in the previous 24 hours. The ministry said that the ratio of positive tests in the West Bank is 6 percent, but security sources in Israel estimated a much higher figure - more than 20 percent.
The PA ministry said that there are 63 seriously ill patients in the West Bank, 23 of them on life support. In Gaza, the Health Ministry reported there are 2,551 people in the Strip currently ill with COVID-19, of whom 30 are life support. Since the pandemic began there have been 573 coronavirus deaths in Gaza.
The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah recently approved the extension of the restrictions on the public in the West Bank, out of fear of a spike in new cases due to the spread of the British and South African variants of the virus. PA police and security forces are focused on preventing gatherings and mass events like weddings and funerals.