Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Monday said coronavirus restrictions will be eased across the West Bank, with courts, government ministries, shops, schools, nurseries and public transportation set to resume normal operations in the next few days.
“Even as the curve rises worldwide… it is a testament to our society’s immune system and dedication that has led us to this moment, in which we can announce that we are approaching the end of these restrictions,” Shtayyeh said at a press conference in Ramallah.
PA government employees — including courts and government ministries — will return to work after the Eid al-Fitr holiday, on Wednesday, while businesses can resume normal operations on Tuesday.
Mosques and churches will also open for the dawn prayer on Tuesday, albeit with some restrictions, Shtayyeh said. Worshipers will be obligated to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and refrain from practicing ritual ablution — an Islamic requirement before prayer — in public buildings.
Flights will begin in early June through the Queen Alia International airport in Amman to repatriate Palestinian students stranded abroad during the coronavirus outbreak, Shtayyeh said.
“I would like to extend my gratitude to King Abdullah II and his government for their aid in opening the airport,” Shtayyeh said.
According to the Palestinian health ministry, there are currently 123 active cases of the coronavirus in the Palestinian territories: 38 cases in Gaza, 60 cases in Jerusalem, and 24 cases in the West Bank city of Hebron. There have been three deaths.
The first social distancing restrictions in the West Bank were instituted in late March.
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Shtayyeh said the PA was ready to reinstate the lockdown measures in the event of a second wave.
“The easing in the measures and gradual return to normal life is being done cautiously… If, God forbid, we see further infections, we are prepared to bring back all of the restrictions,” Shtayyeh said.
Lockdown measures instituted over the Eid al-Fitr holiday resulted in tensions throughout the West Bank; in violation of the restrictions, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated for the right to pray in mosques rather than in the safety of their own homes. Two young men were allegedly shot with live fire in Dheisheh refugee camp outside of Bethlehem due to a clash resulting from lockdown procedures.
Shtayyeh downplayed the clashes in his remarks, claiming that the security forces had successfully avoided the use of force against those violating the rules.
“Some people wanted to pray. There are 1,640 mosques in the West Bank. Twenty mosques had violations. Twenty out of 1,640 is hardly worth mentioning. We asked the security forces to deal with this positively and to avoid confrontation,” Shtayyeh said.
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Some Hamas officials have taken advantage of discontent over the severity of the Eid lockdown in the West Bank to criticize the PA’s response.
Former Hamas MP Abd al-Rahman Zeidan accused the PA in a statement of “stumbling about in the face of corona.”
Zeidan questioned why the Palestinian Authority would allow Palestinian workers to travel between Israel and the West Bank, potentially putting them and the broader community at risk from the novel coronavirus.
In an interview with Hamas-affiliated newspaper al-Resalah, Hamas MP Nayif Rajoub accused the PA of using tighter restrictions in an attempt to restore its political prestige and suppress domestic dissent.