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PA medical teams getting thousands of doses, PMO says

Israel said to trade coronavirus vaccines for diplomatic support

PM’s office reveals it is donating shots to countries that asked for help; report says Honduras will take a shipment, with Czech Republic and Guatemala also interested

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the first batch of Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Israel is offering coronavirus vaccines to various countries in return for their diplomatic backing, the Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday, citing a source familiar with the development. It is also sending thousands of doses for medical staff in the Palestinian Authority.

A plane from Honduras was to take delivery of a shipment later in the day, the report said, and the Czech Republic and Guatemala are also interested.

All three countries have in the past said they would open diplomatic offices in Jerusalem, and the source said that providing the vaccines is part of the process of bringing the missions to the capital.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that it was sending thousands of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority as well as shots to other destinations, without specifying further.

According to a statement from the PMO, Israel has been contacted by numerous countries with requests for vaccines.

“Israel doesn’t manufacture the vaccines itself and has informed the countries that the quantities ordered by Israel are designated for the vaccination of its population and there is no expectation that it can significantly help until the vaccination drive in Israel ends,” the statement said.

But it added that the stocks of vaccines in the country allow it to transfer a symbolic number of immunizations to Palestinian medical staff and to other countries that have asked for help.

“Over the past month, a limited quantity of unused vaccines was accumulated; therefore, it has been decided to assist Palestinian Authority medical teams and several of the countries that contacted Israel with a symbolic quantity of vaccines,” it said.

The statement did not name the countries or the type of vaccines that will be donated, only saying that thousands of immunizations will be sent to Ramallah, the seat of the PA government in the West Bank.

Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine arrive at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Army Radio had reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was interested in offering vaccines for diplomatic support. In conversations with a number of government sources, Netanyahu reportedly raised the possibility of giving vaccine doses to certain unnamed countries in a bid to improve Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world.

The Foreign Ministry reportedly said that surplus vaccines will only be given to other countries after Israel has completed vaccinating its own population.

The Army Radio report cited an Israeli government source as saying that the prime minister has stressed in conversations that vaccine deals could be important for relations with a number of countries, and could even be used to help normalize relations with new countries.

Israel’s vaccination campaign is far ahead of any other country’s worldwide. Nearly four and a half million Israelis, or almost 50% of the country’s total population, have now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, Health Ministry data showed Tuesday. Over 3 million Israelis have received both doses.

Netanyahu was personally involved in negotiating deals to secure millions of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for the country, accelerating its inoculation drive. The government aims to vaccinate the entire over-16 population by the end of March.

The reports on Netanyahu’s hopes to use coronavirus vaccines to help diplomatic relations come after Israel was said to have agreed to purchase an unknown number of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine doses for use in Syria as part of a deal for the return of an Israeli woman who was held by the Syrian regime after she crossed the border two weeks ago.

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