A shipment of 20,000 Russian coronavirus vaccine doses donated by the United Arab Emirates arrived in the Gaza Strip via Egypt on Sunday afternoon.
“Emirati health aid has made an enormous difference in the medical situation in Gaza, and we hope that this shipment of vaccines will be just the first part of a series of vaccine deliveries to Gaza,” Hamas Minister for Social Development Ghazi Hamad said in a statement.
The delivery was reportedly arranged by Mohammad Dahlan, an exiled Fatah official who lives in the Emirates. Dahlan, a key rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is rumored to be a close adviser to Abu Dhabi’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed.
Hamad specifically thanked Dahlan in his remarks at a press conference by Rafah crossing.
“We thank the United Arab Emirates for this generous step, and comrade Mohammad Dahlan for his continued efforts to aid the Gaza Strip,” Hamad said.
Hamas health spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said the doses will be given first to at-risk groups such as those suffering from kidney failure and cancer.
Former PA health minister Jawad al-Tibi, who directs health affairs for Dahlan’s breakaway Fatah faction, told The Times of Israel last week that the vaccines arrived in Abu Dhabi seven days ago and were earmarked for use by the Palestinians.
— حسن اصليح | Hassan (@hassaneslayeh) February 21, 2021
According to al-Tibi, the vaccines were sent to Egypt and had been set to cross into Gaza through Rafah crossing on Thursday. But due to the winter storm that swept through large swaths of the Middle East this week, their entrance was delayed until Sunday.
While Israel has surged ahead in immunizing its citizens, the Palestinians have yet to begin a full vaccine rollout. Around 12,000 doses of coronavirus immunizations have reached Ramallah, which in turn has sent 2,000 coronavirus vaccines to the Gaza Strip.
At the peak of Gaza’s wave of infections in mid-December, the coastal enclave had about 10,000 active cases while as many as 45 percent of tests were coming back positive. Hamas deputy health ministry Yusuf Abu Rish recently estimated that as many as 40% of Gaza’s residents may have been infected with the coronavirus.
The coronavirus situation in the Gaza Strip has been improving recently, with only 2,168 active cases and relatively few tests coming back positive. Health authorities in the densely populated coastal enclave have moved to allow schools and popular markets to reopen.
Al-Tibi said that he had asked Dahlan to provide as many as 300,000 doses to the Gaza Strip. He said he anticipated further shipments, although he declined to say when the next would arrive and how many vaccines would be included.
Relations between Palestinian factions and the UAE have grown tense in recent months due to Abu Dhabi’s decision in mid-August to fully normalize ties with Israel, which both the Hamas terror group and the Palestinian Authority called “a stab in the back” to the Palestinian cause.
But the UAE has sent several aid shipments to Gaza since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. In December, Abu Dhabi sent 14.4 tons of medical supplies through intermediaries in Dahlan’s Democratic Reform Current. In January, it sent a critical oxygen station for use by seriously ill coronavirus patients.
In a conversation in December, Hamas health official Munir al-Bursh dismissed the notion of ideological differences trumping the needs of Gaza’s civilian population.
“In the face of a health disaster, it would be inconceivable to reject aid that we need,” al-Bursh said at the time.
Gaza’s fragile health infrastructure has been worn down by three wars and a 13-year blockade by Israel and Egypt, which imposes tight restrictions on materials entering and exiting the coastal enclave.
Israel argues that the blockade is necessary to prevent a far greater military threat from Gaza’s Hamas rulers, who avowedly seek to destroy the Jewish state. Rights groups, however, have condemned the devastating impact on Gaza’s civilian population and the economy entailed by the restrictions.
The doses are set to arrive in the Gaza Strip against the backdrop of the possibility of the first Palestinian national elections in 15 years. Although many are skeptical that the elections will actually take place amid the ongoing schism between Hamas and Fatah, optimism has been growing in diplomatic circles that the planned vote will come to pass.
While opinion polls show little grassroots support for Dahlan in the West Bank, the former Gaza security chief’s powerful regional patron provides him with resources to use against his Fatah and Hamas rivals.