Hamas chief threatens Israel over ventilators for coronavirus patients

Yahya Sinwar says if breathing machines not brought to Gaza, terror group will ‘stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis’

Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, speaks to foreign correspondents in his office in Gaza City, May 10, 2018. (Khalil Hamra/AP)
Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, speaks to foreign correspondents in his office in Gaza City, May 10, 2018. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

The head of Hamas in Gaza warned Israel if more ventilators for coronavirus patients were not brought into the Palestinian enclave then his terror group will “take them by force.”

“If ventilators are not brought into [Gaza], we’ll take them by force from Israel and stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis,” said Yahya Sinwar, according to Hebrew media reports.

The terror chief highlighted Hamas’s efforts to contain the virus outbreak in Gaza, saying, “When we decided to establish compulsory quarantine facilities for people returning to Gaza, we knew that it would be a difficult decision that would cause a lot of criticism against us.”

“It’s our first line of defense. We can’t allow the epidemic into Gaza,” Sinwar said, according to Channel 12.

He accused Israel of not allowing medicines into Gaza, saying he wouldn’t return Israeli soldiers’ bodies until medical supplies came in.

Hamas is believed to be holding the remains of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, which were captured by the terror group when the two were killed in the Strip during the 2014 war.

Sinwar, who is heading Hamas’s response to the pandemic, made the comments via remote video chat to television and the terror group’s digital platforms. The address appeared to be his first public statement on the outbreak.

The virus has found a way into Gaza, even though the Mediterranean enclave has been largely cut off from the world by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized control of it from the Palestinian Authority 13 years ago. Israel says the blockade is in place to prevent Hamas importing weapons and other military supplies.

Gaza had confirmed 12 coronavirus infections as of Tuesday. Their condition was “stable and reassuring,” said the Hamas-run health ministry.

The terrifying possibility of an outbreak in one of the world’s most crowded territories — 2 million people squeezed into an area twice the size of Washington, DC — does not seem to have registered fully. Many in Gaza seem to accept Hamas assurances that the threat is contained.

Although movement in and out of Gaza has been heavily restricted since 2007, it is not cut off altogether. The first two virus cases were men who had returned from a religious conference in Pakistan, part of a wave of hundreds of returnees who were placed into quarantine.

Hamas has sought to beef up its quarantine efforts in recent days, opening 18 additional facilities in clinics and hotels and declaring them off-limits. It has also banned weekly street markets and shut down wedding halls, cafes and mosques and extended quarantine periods.

There’s only a small number of available tests in Gaza. International officials fear the virus could quickly spread and overwhelm an already gutted health system.

Workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at the main market in Gaza City, March 27, 2020. (AP/Adel Hana)

Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian issues, said it has coordinated the delivery of hundreds of coronavirus testing kits by the World Health Organization, as well as protective equipment, medicine and disinfectant.

Israel, along with most Western nations, considers Hamas a terror group. But it likely fears the fallout from a catastrophic outbreak would spill over the frontier.

The overwhelming majority of ventilators in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are already being used by patients with conditions unrelated to the highly contagious coronavirus, a WHO official warned on Thursday.

Eighty to 90 percent of the 256 adult ventilators in the West Bank and the 87 in the Gaza Strip are currently unavailable, Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the WHO’s mission to the Palestinians, told The Times of Israel.

“They are being used by people who have suffered heart attacks, strokes and other incidents requiring critical care,” he said.

The WHO representative made the comments after the number of confirmed cases in the West Bank jumped over the past two days.

Palestinian authorities in Ramallah announced 26 new cases of the virus on Thursday after reporting 15 on Wednesday. They said that a total of 160 people in the West Bank and Gaza have been infected by the contagion, including 18 who recovered and one who died.

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