Jordan restricts use of West Bank crossing amid coronavirus fears

Jordan restricts use of West Bank crossing amid coronavirus fears

Israel’s immigration authority says Israeli side of Allenby Bridge still open to foreigners; move comes as infections in Palestinian territory rise to 25

File photo of the Allenby Bridge (also known as the King Hussein Bridge), a major land crossing between Israel and Jordan. (photo credit: Flash90)
Illustrative: The Allenby Bridge (also known as the King Hussein Bridge), a major land crossing between Israel and Jordan. (Flash90)

Jordan on Monday limited use of the only border crossing between its territory and the West Bank to Palestinians and individuals with diplomatic travel documents, as the number of those infected with the novel coronavirus continued to climb.

The United Nations’ access coordination unit, which helps facilitate the movement of people and goods across the border, said movement through the Allenby Brigde to Jordan and the West Bank would only be allowed for Palestinians, including those in East Jerusalem, as well as persons with UN travel documents or diplomatic passports, the UK’s Independent newspaper reported.

Other foreigners desiring to travel through Allenby would not be permitted to do so, the report indicated.

The vast majority of those who cross Allenby are Palestinians.

Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority said that Amman made the decision for its end of the bridge, also known as the King Hussein Bridge, which spans the Jordan River connecting the West Bank with Jordan.

“The Jordanians closed their side. Our side isn’t closed,” a spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

The development came shortly after a Palestinian Authority spokesperson said that the number of cases of the virus diagnosed in the West Bank had risen to 25. The PA has already declared a state of emergency over the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Palestinian security forces wearing face masks block the entrance to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, March 8, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Earlier Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh suggested that the Palestinians may be compelled to ask Israel to close down the Allenby border crossing.

“We may be forced to close the bridges in the coming days,” Shtayyeh said during a cabinet meeting.

Shtayyeh noted that any such move would be done in coordination with Israel and Jordan.

“We hopefully will not need to do that,” he said.

Ibrahim Milhem, Shtayyeh’s spokesman, said in a text message that the premier was specifically referring to the Allenby border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan.

Israel controls the West Bank side of Allenby, but Palestinians and some foreigners travel through it to go to Jordan or to enter the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh speaking at a meeting of Socialist International in Ramallah on July 30, 2019. (Wafa)

Since coronavirus emerged in China late last year, more than 105,000 confirmed cases have been reported, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus has killed upwards of 3,550 people, most of them in China, though cases have been recorded in 101 countries and territories.

The PA prime minister also announced that the total number of persons in the West Bank diagnosed with the virus, has risen from 19 to 20 — all in Bethlehem.

Milhem later on Monday said that five additional persons were infected with the virus, bringing the total in the West Bank to 25. He said one of the newly confirmed cases was from outside Bethlehem, in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem.

Shortly after Palestinian health authorities confirmed the first cases in the West Bank, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency for 30 days.

There have been 39 confirmed cases of COVID-39 in Israel, where tens of thousands have been ordered into self-quarantine after returning from trips abroad or coming in contact with those who are infected.

Last week, Jordan announced its first case of COVID-19, diagnosed in a man who had returned from a trip to Italy. There has been a major outbreak of the disease in Italy, with over 350 deaths. Northern areas of Italy have been ordered into lockdown, forcing some 15 million people off the streets.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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