Exiled Fatah security chief Mohammad Dahlan announced Wednesday that the United Arab Emirates will send another 40,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccines to the Gaza Strip.
“In the next step of the Emirates’ generous donations, I’m glad to inform our patient and steadfast people of the arrival of a new shipment of coronavirus vaccines, with the aim of providing protection to our valiant medical staff and to priority groups,” Dahlan said in a tweet.
The vaccines are set to arrive in the Gaza Strip on Thursday through the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Dahlan, a key rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has lived in the Emirates since 2011. He is said to have become a close confidant of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed, the Emirates’ de facto ruler.
Dahlan previously sent 20,000 UAE-donated vaccines to the Gaza Strip.
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.
Around 9,800 vaccine doses were distributed in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry. But accusations of nepotism and corruption have dogged their distribution, with a substantial number of shots reportedly going to those close to government officials rather than to health care workers.
In a statement, Ramallah acknowledged that some doses went to government officials, some young students and the Palestinian national soccer team. But they maintained that 90 percent of the vaccines were given to front-line health care workers.
Dahlan associate Jawad al-Tibi, a former PA health minister, told The Times of Israel that Dahlan’s movement planned on offering Ramallah 20,000 of the Sputnik V doses on the condition that the doses were administered transparently.
“The vaccines which went to the PA did not reach the average people. They went to those in power and their relatives. We will offer 20,000 of the vaccines in our possession to the PA — on the condition that they actually reach those who need them,” al-Tibi said.
“We will offer them [to the PA], and they’re free to accept or they can refuse,” al-Tibi concluded.
At the peak of Gaza’s wave of infections in mid-December, the coastal enclave had about 10,000 active cases, with as many as 45% of tests coming back positive. Hamas deputy health ministry Yusuf Abu Rish recently estimated that as many as 40 percent of Gaza’s residents may have been infected with the coronavirus.
But the coronavirus situation in the Gaza Strip has improved recently, with only 2,010 active cases and relatively few tests coming back positive. Health authorities in the densely populated coastal enclave have allowed schools and popular markets to reopen.
In the West Bank, rising caseloads have forced closures across Palestinian Authority areas. Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Tubas have all entered total lockdown in response to a major surge in infections.
Active coronavirus infections in the West Bank have nearly doubled over the past two weeks, from 9,632 to 18,365 active cases. The death toll has also been rising rapidly, with the West Bank seeing 21 deaths in the past 24 hours.
Around 20 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive across the West Bank on Wednesday, indicating that the virus was likely spreading widely undetected.
Palestinian Authority officials have repeatedly set public deadlines for the vaccines’ arrival — only to see them repeatedly fall through. Late January, early Feburary, mid-February and early March were all named as potential arrival dates, but none came to pass.
In an interview on Wednesday with official Palestinian television, PA health minister Mai al-Kaila blamed what she called the “evasiveness” of vaccine manufacturers.
“Manufacturing countries give them first to their own citizens and then to their allies, and this is what happened with regard to the vaccines,” al-Kaila charged. “Pfizer and Moderna are made by America, and it gives them to its own citizens and then to its allies, especially Israel.”
The PA also expects to receive around 37,000 Pfizer vaccines and between 240,000 to 405,600 AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX framework, a global vaccine program for poor and middle-income countries backed by the World Health Organization.
But the doses allocated for the Palestinians have since been tied up in bureaucratic hurdles. The Pfizer vaccines, intended for use by medical staff, are now set to reach Ramallah on March 17, a WHO spokesperson told The Times of Israel.