Health official says Israel may need to ‘medically annex’ West Bank

Unnamed official tells news network territories cannot be separated in handling virus crisis; ex-director of Health Ministry: ‘What happens there will happen here’

A Palestinian worker gets his temperature checked as he returns to the West Bank via the Mitar checkpoint, March 25, 2020. (Hazem Bader/AFP)
A Palestinian worker gets his temperature checked as he returns to the West Bank via the Mitar checkpoint, March 25, 2020. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

A senior official in the Health Ministry warned Tuesday that Israel may have no choice but to “medically annex” areas of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control, amid concerns the true number of coronavirus there may be far more than officially reported.

The unnamed official told Channel 12 news that as Israel and the West Bank were intertwined and one geographic unit, the two needed to join forces in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.

The official also called the PA “a black hole” in terms of testing for the virus in areas it rules.

Dr. Gabi Barabash, a former director-general of the Health Ministry, said Israel was not doing enough to help the PA deal with the virus.

“This will also reach us and we don’t have the ability to accommodate their needs because we also have a problem,” he told Channel 12.

He also highlighted East Jerusalem as a potential weak point, noting the flow of people between there and the PA.

“What happens there will happen here,” he said.

Israeli policemen order people outside the Old City of Jerusalem to go back to their homes on March 27, 2020, as part of measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

According to the PA’s latest figures, there have been 107 confirmed coronavirus cases and one death in the West Bank. There have also been 10 cases in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

On Monday, a Palestinian official said the PA’s General Intelligence Services had brought 10,000 kits to test for coronavirus to the PA Health Ministry.

The intelligence apparatus led by Majed Faraj, a close confidante of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, arranged for the kits to arrive from China, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

A volunteer from the Fatah party, working in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority health ministry, sterilizes the clothing of a woman entering the West Bank city of Hebron on March 28, 2020. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

As of Sunday, Palestinian health authorities have only carried out 5,869 tests on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the PA Health Ministry.

Since the virus outbreak began, the PA has imposed a number of restrictions meant to curb its spread and in coordination with Israel, has also put the West Bank under closure, barring the overwhelming majority of Palestinians from crossing into the country.

Israeli officials have praised the coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to battle the virus, as have United Nations officials.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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