Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh suggested on Monday that the Palestinians may be compelled to ask Israel to close down the Allenby border crossing.
He made the comment at a weekly cabinet meeting in which he focused his remarks on the outbreak of the coronavirus in the West Bank.
“We may be forced to close the bridges in the coming days,” Shtayyeh said, noting that any such move would be done in coordination with Israel and Jordan. “We hopefully will not need to do that.”
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 enter the West Bank.
The Palestinians would need Israel to implement any decision to shut down Allenby.
Shtayyeh added: “For the second time, I am affirming this matter. The reason is so that anyone on the other side who wants to return to Palestine can do what he needs to do and anyone who is here and needs to travel can do what he needs to do.”
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Shtayyeh’s remarks.
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.
Shtayyeh has since announced the closure of schools and universities, the cancellation of all hotel reservations and conferences, the shuttering of tourist and religious sites, the banning of public gatherings and protests, and other measures.
He also has declared that no one would be allowed to leave or enter Bethlehem except in the case of emergencies.
Milhem said on Monday that several dozen remaining tourists in Bethlehem will depart the city in the coming hours.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show that Bethlehem has essentially turned into a ghost town.
هكذا بدت شوارع بيت لحم الساعة 2:30 ظهر اليوم / أهم شوارعها خالية من البشر ، لا يخرج أهلها على أحد ولا يصل اليهم أحد . رعب الكورونا شل المدينة pic.twitter.com/7pKEIw7tH7
— د. ناصر اللحام (@nasserlaham4) March 8, 2020
Bethlehem, the most visited tourist destination in the West Bank, is the home of the Church of the Nativity, a site revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Many hotels, shops and restaurants in the city depend on tourists to stay afloat.
Meanwhile, Abbas said on Monday that Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had donated medical equipment valued at $10 million to the Palestinians “to confront the coronavirus,” the official PA news site Wafa reported.
The report did not say whether the equipment would go to the West Bank and Gaza Strip or only one of the territories.
The PA Governor of Tobas, Younis al-Ati, also ordered on Monday the closure of all cafes, coffee shops, gyms and indoor sport facilities in the Tobas area.
His decision came a day after PA Nablus Governor Ibrahim Ramadan issued an identical one for his region.