PA puts Bethlehem-area village on lockdown after 3 more coronavirus cases

PA puts Bethlehem-area village on lockdown after 3 more coronavirus cases

Security forces tell Beit Sahour residents to remain in homes unless absolutely necessary; spokesman says one of the new cases violated quarantine

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

A small group of worshippers attend mass at an Orthodox church in Beit Sahour near the West Bank city of Bethlehem on March 8, 2020. (Musa Al Shaer/AFP)
A small group of worshippers attend mass at an Orthodox church in Beit Sahour near the West Bank city of Bethlehem on March 8, 2020. (Musa Al Shaer/AFP)

The Palestinian Authority’s Bethlehem governor, Kamel Hamid, on Tuesday ordered security forces to tell residents of the neighboring village of Beit Sahour to not enter public spaces, the official PA news site Wafa reported, after three people there tested positive for the coronavirus.

Video broadcast on Palestine TV, the official PA channel, showed security forces using a loudspeaker to tell residents to stay in their homes unless absolutely necessary.

PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said the three newly infected persons, two women and a man, had been under home quarantine, but one of them did not abide by its conditions.

A resident of the Beit Sahour, who asked to remain nameless, said Wednesday morning that almost no persons were outdoors.

Palestinian authorities said that, as of Tuesday night, there were a total of 44 confirmed coronavirus cases in the West Bank — 40 in the Bethlehem area and four in other places. However, they said that the condition of 20 cases has begun to improve.

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

Palestinian policemen participate in a training session at their headquarters in the West Bank city of Hebron on January 30, 2019. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

PA Prime Minister 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 has declared that no one would be allowed to leave or enter the Bethlehem area, including central Bethlehem, Beit Sahour Beit Jala and other places, except in case of emergencies.

On Wednesday afternoon, Shtayyeh said that Palestinians, save security and medical officials, would not be allowed to move between a number different places in the Bethlehem area, including Beit Sahour, starting at 10PM.

Beit Sahour is a Christian-majority village and holds a number of sites revered by Christians around the world.

On Tuesday, Shtayyeh announced that movement between Israel and the West Bank would be cut off in three days, according to Wafa.

He also suggested that Palestinian and Israeli authorities had agreed that Palestinians who work in Israel should arrange sleeping accommodations in the Jewish state before the three days elapse, the Wafa report said.

“The government decided to grant Palestinian laborers in Israel three days to arrange their affairs regarding a place to sleep in their workplaces in coordination with their employers,” Wafa  quoted Shtayyeh as telling a PA committee dedicated to preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Shtayyeh’s comments came after Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said Tuesday morning that the minister had ordered authorities to allow Palestinians working in “essential sectors” in Israel to spend the coming one to two months in the country, with their employers finding a place for them to stay.

Bennett’s office said that these “essential sectors” currently include health, agriculture, construction and caregiving, adding that authorities would consider allowing those working in other fields to stay in Israel on a case-by-case basis.

Some 60,000 to 70,000 Palestinians were eligible to cross into Israel and spend the next one to two months in its territory, an Israeli security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel.

Palestinian policeman delivers supplies to a hotel where staff tested positive for coronavirus in Bethlehem, the West Bank, March 6, 2020. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Palestinians workers above the age of 50 or those coming from Bethlehem will not be allowed entry to Israel, the official said, adding settlers would still be able to move between the Jewish state and the West Bank.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians regularly work in various fields in Israel, such as construction, agriculture and health, among others.

They bring hundreds of millions of shekels into the Palestinian economy every month.

Assaf Adiv, the executive director of Wac Maan, a union that represents both Israeli and Palestinian workers, said a number of Palestinians would be staying in unfinished apartments, while others would be spending their nights in rented accommodations or empty spaces in factories.

Shtayyeh also called on Palestinians who work in West Bank settlements to not go to their workplaces “out of concern for their well-being as well as that of their families and people,” the Wafa report stated, adding that he noted many settlers have been diagnosed with the virus.

The Israeli security official said that Palestinians laborers in “essential sectors” would be allowed to go to their workplaces in settlements and return home on the same day.

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