One million doses of coronavirus vaccine arrived in the Gaza Strip from the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, the latest donation facilitated by an exiled rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mohammad Dahlan, a Gaza native now based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, was once a top Palestinian Authority official who served as Abbas’s security chief in the coastal enclave before its takeover by the Hamas terror group in 2007.
Gaza health ministry spokesman Mahmoud Hammad told journalists that the consignment of one million doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine marked the largest single shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to the territory.
The vaccines were delivered through Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt, which is under Egyptian control.
The same route was used for previous shipments organized by Dahlan, who has increasingly sought to position himself as a benefactor for the Palestinian people.
Dahlan had been expected to emerge as a key player from Palestinian elections scheduled for last year, but the polls were postponed indefinitely by Abbas in a move that also infuriated Hamas.
The ministry’s head of preventive medicine, Magdy Duhair, warned that Gaza’s health system was under increased strain due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
While Gaza’s beleaguered medical system has struggled at times during the pandemic, coronavirus transmission has been limited by the tight controls Israel and Egypt enforce on travel in and out of the coastal enclave.
Gaza, which has a population of roughly 2.3 million, has recorded 196,578 COVID cases and 1,744 deaths. While anecdotal reports of coronavirus cases fly back and forth, Palestinian health officials say that hospitalizations for serious infections have remained low for now.
So far, 578,000 residents have received two doses of a vaccine.
Gaza has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt for a decade and a half. Israel says the tight restrictions on the movement of goods and people are necessary to prevent a threat from weapons smuggled by Hamas, which is avowedly committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Rights groups lament the impact of the blockade on ordinary Palestinians. The crowded Strip suffers from outdated, collapsing infrastructure, as well as nearly 50 percent unemployment.
Gaza’s health care system suffers from a chronic lack of equipment, as Israel blacklists some items as potential security risks. Talented medical staff with the opportunity to leave the enclave for greener pastures often do.
Earlier coronavirus waves struck Gaza hard. The tightly packed cities and sprawling refugee camps left little room for social distancing. Both Gaza doctors and international observers warned that the under-equipped, poorly staffed system could collapse under the strain.