The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, announced on Tuesday that the Allenby border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan would be shut to travelers in both directions until further notice because of the growing spread of the novel coronavirus in the Middle East.
The announcement came a day after Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh suggested that the Palestinians may be compelled to ask Israel to close down Allenby.
COGAT, which said that the measure would go into effect on Tuesday, clarified that “local residents,” an apparent reference to Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem who are currently in Jordan, would be permitted to return to their homes, if they coordinate with authorities.
The Defense Ministry body also stated that Jordanians in “the area,” an apparent allusion to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, would be allowed to go back to Jordan, if they arrange to do so with authorities.
“These preventive measures and action have been undertaken in an effort to protect the health and welfare of the public,” it said.
In order to travel beyond the West Bank and Israel, an overwhelming majority of Palestinians in the West Bank must cross through Allenby. Thousands of Palestinians usually pass through it daily, but data from the PA General Administration of Crossings and Borders has shown that numbers have recently declined.
Many foreigners, including diplomats, also often use the crossing to go from Amman to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and vice versa.
A spokeswoman for COGAT, however, said in a phone call that the passage of goods between Jordan and the West Bank through Allenby would continue unimpeded.
Since coronavirus emerged in China late last year, more than 105,000 confirmed cases have been reported, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus has killed upwards of 3,550 people, most of them in China, though cases have been recorded in 101 countries and territories.
PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said on Tuesday that 29 people in the West Bank have now been diagnosed with the virus, with all but one case in Bethlehem.
Shortly after Palestinian health authorities confirmed the first cases of coronavirus in the West Bank last Thursday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency for 30 days.
Shtayyeh has since announced the closure of schools and universities, the cancellation of all hotel reservations and conferences, the shuttering of tourist and religious sites, the banning of public gatherings and protests, and other measures.
He also has declared that no one would be allowed to leave or enter Bethlehem except in the case of emergency.