Ramallah claims 2,000 vaccines blocked; Israel says 1,000

Israel blocks delivery of truckload of coronavirus vaccines sent by PA to Gaza

Prime Minister’s Office declines to explain delay; Gaza terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad seethe, accuse Jerusalem of ‘war crimes’

Illustrative: Palestinians arrive to receive their $100 financial aid as part of the aid allocated by Qatar to poor families, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 4, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative: Palestinians arrive to receive their $100 financial aid as part of the aid allocated by Qatar to poor families, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 4, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israeli authorities continued to delay transferring a consignment of Russian COVID-19 vaccines to Gaza on Tuesday, despite a formal request by the Palestinian Authority to send the shipment from Ramallah to the coastal enclave.

The Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai Alkaila said Monday that Israel bore “full responsibility” for blocking the delivery of 2,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine that were acquired by the PA. Israeli health official Asher Salmon told the Knesset on Monday that Israel had only received a request to transfer 1,000 doses.

Israel’s National Security Council, an advisory body inside the Prime Minister’s Office, is “examining the request,” an official in the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. The vaccines’ entry will eventually be approved or rejected by the executive branch.

The Israeli defense official told The Times of Israel that the Palestinian Authority had sent a truck containing the vaccines to the Beitunia commercial crossing south of Ramallah on Monday. Israeli authorities turned the truck away, the official said.

“They sent a truck full of vaccines down to Beitunia without any kind of coordination with us, without having received the proper permits,” the official said, calling the incident “inane.”

A senior Palestinian health official did not respond to a request for comment.

While Israel has surged ahead in vaccinating its population — 44 percent of Israelis had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Tuesday — the Palestinians have yet to begin a major immunization rollout.

Palestinians sit as PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh opens a hospital for COVID-19 patients in the West Bank city of Nablus, on January 16, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/ Flash90)

The Hamas terror group, Gaza’s rulers, blasted Israel for not allowing the vaccines to enter the Strip.

The delay in allowing the vaccines constituted “a real crime and a violation of all international laws and humanitarian standards,” said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem.

Islamic Jihad, another terror group active in Gaza, called the delay in allowing the vaccines to enter “a war crime about which the Palestinian people and its forces cannot remain silent.”

“This reveals the true, ugly, hideous face of [Israel],” senior Islamic Jihad official Yousef al-Hasayneh said in a statement.

According to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry, 169,487 Palestinians have tested positive for the coronavirus in the West Bank and Gaza, and 1,942 have died of COVID-19. But little testing has been done, suggesting that the true figure could be much higher: A preliminary study by the PA Health Ministry found coronavirus antibodies in 40% of Palestinians surveyed.

The PA began immunizing some frontline Palestinian healthcare workers in early February after receiving an initial shipment of 10,000 Sputnik V vaccine doses. Ramallah also received 2,000 Moderna vaccine doses from Israel, with another 3,000 on the way.

The vaccination campaign, however, is complicated by the Palestinians’ geographical and political division. The West Bank is ruled by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, while the Gaza Strip is ruled by the Hamas terror group.

The two rival Palestinian political movements have been deeply at odds since 2007, when they fought a bitter civil war. Nonetheless, the two sides have pledged to coordinate on distributing the coronavirus vaccine in Gaza, and Hamas expects most of their vaccines to arrive from the PA.

Members of the Palestinian security forces enforce a lockdown following the spread of the coronavirus, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 18, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Ramallah is set to receive most of the immunizations acquired by the PA, although some others will head straight from Israeli ports to Gaza, World Health Organization envoy Gerald Rockenschaub told The Times of Israel on Monday.

In order for the Palestinian Authority to send its vaccines to Gaza, however, Israel will have to sign off on the procedure. For now, officials on both sides confirmed, no approval has been given.

Some Israeli lawmakers have demanded conditioning the transfer of the vaccines on the return of Israeli captives held by Hamas.

The terror group currently imprisons two Israelis — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — and holds the remains of two Israeli soldiers — Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. Hamas officials have said they hope to use the four Israelis as bargaining chips in a future prisoner exchange with Israel.

“Israel is going beyond the letter of the law in providing humanitarian aid. We will give humanitarian aid, yes, in exchange for humanitarianism,” outgoing Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsch told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee on Monday.

The PA said the vaccines were intended for health care workers. MK Zvi Hauser, head of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, argued on Monday that the vaccines were likely to reach the Hamas leadership.

“I don’t see Yahya Sinwar giving his vaccine to a kind nurse in Gaza,” Hauser said sarcastically, referring to Gaza’s de facto governor.

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