PA rebuffs call to stop ‘incitement’ campaign blaming Israel for its virus cases
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PA rebuffs call to stop ‘incitement’ campaign blaming Israel for its virus cases

PM Shtayyeh says Ramallah ‘will not bow to blackmail’ as leaders accuse Israel of intentionally spreading pandemic; spokesman says Israelis are ‘agents of the virus’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh speaks to reporters during a press conference on April 13, 2020. (Wafa)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh speaks to reporters during a press conference on April 13, 2020. (Wafa)

Senior Palestinian officials refused on Monday to back down on accusations that Israel has been responsible for intentionally spreading the coronavirus in the West Bank, after Jerusalem called such claims “incitement” and warned of significant consequences for repeating them.

“We will not bow to blackmail in any form,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said during a press conference.

The premier was responding to a question regarding Hebrew media reports, according to which Israeli defense officials have been furious about the rhetoric coming out of Ramallah in recent days, where officials have implied or outright accused Israel of seeking to spread the virus among the Palestinian population.

In addition, the PA Health Ministry has listed on its website the cause of the confirmed Palestinian coronavirus cases in the West Bank as “the occupation state.”

PA officials say that the vast majority of the 261 Palestinian coronavirus cases in the West Bank have been individuals working in Israel or those who had come in contact with them upon their return.

A Channel 12 report said the source of contagion of nearly 75 percent of cases that have tested positive for COVID-19 in the PA has been traced to Palestinian workers employed in Israel. The PA has utilized this statistic to allege that Israel is “polluting” PA areas via both Palestinian workers and the IDF.

A widely shared video of an IDF soldier spitting while on patrol in Hebron was used to accuse troops of spreading the infection.

The PA has also accused Israel of opening up drainage pipes along the security barrier to allow workers to move unmonitored, while carrying the virus in from the Jewish population.

Shtayyeh said Monday that there were 19,000 Palestinian workers currently residing in Israel, adding that there were efforts being made to test them for the virus before their return to the West Bank.

Palestinian health workers disinfectant Palestinian workers as they cross back from Israel to the West Bank at a checkpoint in Tarqumiya on March 27, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The prime minister called for an “emergency” meeting to be held between PA labor, health and civil affairs ministers along with their Israeli counterparts to better coordinate the entrance and exit of Palestinian workers in Israel.

“Honestly, we completely realize that the Israeli economic machine wants to operate at the expense of our sons’ lives,” he said, adding that Palestinian workers had been returning to the West Bank through both official and “unofficial” crossings without being examined.

The Israeli defense establishment has blamed senior PA figures, including Shtayyeh, for what a senior defense official told Hebrew media was “a racist incitement campaign against the IDF and Israel.”

Israel has sent “very strong messages” to top PA security officials and, indirectly, to Shtayyeh, warning that if the “anti-Israel incitement” does not stop, Israel “will take action,” including by reducing security cooperation and by limiting the freedom of action of PA security officials, according reports on Channel 12, Kan news and Walla.

Last month, after the first confirmed cases of the virus in Israel and the West Bank, Israeli authorities barred the vast majority of Palestinians from entering the Jewish state, but allowed tens of thousands of Palestinian workers in “essential sectors,” mostly construction, to spend one to two months in the country.

PA government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem also responded to the reports in a separate Monday press conference.

“They [the Israelis] are not only exporting [the virus]. They are agents of this virus…These are not accusations. These are facts,” he said, referring to the PA statistics on virus cases.

Asked if he was concerned about Israel taking action against the PA if continues its aggressive rhetoric against Jerusalem, Melhem responded “Look, we hear this a lot. What do they give us? Aid? Those who are raiding the Palestinian cities and the villages. This is what they call aid?”

بكل أسف، الناطق بإسم الحكومة قال إستلمنا عامل عبر حاجز بيت سيرا من قبل الإحتلال يشتبه انه مصاب بالكورونا…لكن للأسف الفيديو يقول عكس ذلك تماماالإحتلال راميه رمي عالطريق وكإنه مش إنسان….شو اللي بيمنع الناطق بإسم الحكومة انه يقول ان الإحتلال ابن الكلب رماه بهالطريقة البشعة…اكيد كانت الصورة لم تصل للناطق بهذه البشاعة..الاحتلال ابن الكلب

פורסם על ידי ‏سامي الساعي‏ ב- יום שני, 23 במרץ 2020

“Those who open tunnels and allow the entry of workers through them — this is is aid? Those who [dump] sick workers in the middle of the road. This is is aid? Those who enter, arrest and spit on the streets. This is aid?” continued

“The occupation is finding in the contagion an opportunity to carry out ruthless action against the Palestinian people,” he added.

Meanwhile, Shtayyeh confirmed that the PA had asked Israel for an advance in the tax revenues the Jewish state collects on its behalf.

The tax transfers amount to roughly NIS 500 million ($140 million) a month, but with imports down significantly due to the coronavirus, revenues from this past month are believed to have more than halved. As a result the PA has asked Israel to compensate for the discrepancy in order for it to make it through the pandemic. Shtayyeh said Monday that he believed Israel would “respond affirmatively” to Ramallah’s request.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday that Israeli officials are prepared to provide the advance.

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