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Israel to send Palestinians 5,000 coronavirus vaccine doses for health workers

Senior figures in Ramallah have claimed Israel is obligated to provide shots; Israel denies this; the PA has yet to receive any major shipments of vaccines

Palestinians in the streets of the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on January 26, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
Palestinians in the streets of the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on January 26, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

Israel will transfer 5,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to medical teams in Palestinian Authority areas, with the first delivery expected to change hands at the beginning of this week, Israeli military sources said.

“In accordance with the recommendation of the Defense Minister and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the political echelon approved [on Friday] the transfer of 5,000 vaccine doses to medical teams in the Palestinian Authority,” a military source said in a statement.

Ramallah had previously reportedly asked Israel to provide 10,000 doses to inoculate its frontline healthcare workers, a request PA officials said was rejected by Israel due to shortages.

Palestinian health officials have pledged to distribute vaccines equitably across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip when they arrive. The Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment as to whether Israel had requested assurances that the vaccines would not go to the Strip, which is ruled by the Hamas terror group.

Several Palestinian health officials did not respond to a request by The Times of Israel for comment.

A similar silence in Ramallah prevailed in response to a court filing by the Israeli state attorney in early January confirming media reports that Israel had quietly allocated and begun to transfer 200 doses of coronavirus vaccine to Ramallah as a “humanitarian gesture.”

While Israel has surged ahead in vaccinating its population — around 32 percent of Israelis had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Sunday morning — the Palestinian Authority has yet to receive any major shipments of vaccines.

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)

Ramallah has contracted with four parties — Moderna, AstraZeneca, China and Russia — to bring an amalgam of immunizations. Most of the doses are now expected to arrive in mid-March, although several deadlines for the vaccines’ arrival have already fallen through.

Around 5,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine — a personal gift from Russian President Vladimir Putin — were expected to arrive in the West Bank two weeks ago, but their arrival was delayed due to “technical reasons.” While health officials assured reporters that the shipment would arrive by last Friday, the doses were later delayed indefinitely.

Senior Palestinian health official Osama Al-Najjar told The Times of Israel last week that the PA was tightly bound by financial constraints, which greatly limited which vaccines it could access and when.

“All the companies we deal with ask us for 50% up front, which is sometimes beyond our ability to pay,” al-Najjar said.

Around 2 million doses are expected to arrive from AstraZeneca, PA health officials have said. Another 150,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine will arrive, in addition to smaller shipments of the Chinese Sinopharm and the Moderna vaccine.

The Palestinian Authority expects another 20% of its vaccines to arrive by way of Covax, a program backed by World Health Organization that seeks to ensure equitable access to coronavirus vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. Those vaccines are currently set to arrive by the middle of 2021.

Some PA officials, such as Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, have charged that Israel is obligated under international law to provide vaccines to the Palestinians, who live under a mixture of limited self-rule and Israeli military law.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan called such claims of Israeli obligations “false and grotesque” in a speech to the international body last week. Erdan argued that the Oslo Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, delegate the responsibility for immunizations to the Palestinian Authority.

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