Planning is underway for an internationally led effort to vaccinate thousands of merchants in the Gaza Strip against coronavirus, so that they can cross the border into Israel and travel to the West Bank, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper reported Tuesday, citing diplomatic sources.
Israel is said to be willing to cooperate with the idea, which would see the traders vaccinated by teams of doctors from abroad at special sites set up on the Israeli side of the Erez border crossing. The doctors would likely be from an international aid organization, according to the report.
The report said Israel would approve such a plan as part of ongoing arrangements with the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza.
It said Qatar is to fund the purchase of 14,000 units of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that would be used to inoculate 7,000 merchants, who until the COVID-19 pandemic began would regularly travel from Gaza to the West Bank by traversing Israel.
After the outbreak of the virus, the pedestrian border crossing between Gaza and Israel was closed down, preventing the traders from continuing their operations, causing a significant impact to Gaza’s already faltering economy.
Vaccination of the traders would come alongside the Palestinians’ own inoculation efforts in Gaza and the West Bank. The Pfizer vaccine is the same one Israel is using for its own immunization drive.
Gaza has seen a recent fresh wave of virus cases apparently caused by the British variant of the coronavirus, and the daily caseload of new infections is expected to reach 1,000 this week among the population of around 2 million residents, Yedioth reported.
By comparison, in Israel, where a successful vaccination program has already succeeded in immunizing over half the population of around 9.5 million, daily cases have dropped to the low hundreds.
Israel has faced calls from rights groups and figures in the international community to help vaccinate Palestinians. Human rights groups and the Palestinian Authority have criticized the fact that Israeli West Bank settlers have been vaccinated, but Palestinians have not.
Last week several rights groups filed a petition at the High Court of Justice demanding that Israel act to ensure the vaccination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including by handing over surplus supplies of its own vaccine stocks. They argue that Israel as an occupying power is obligated to ensure the health of those it rules.
Israeli officials have said the Palestinians are responsible for vaccinating their own people according to the 1993 Oslo Accords between the two sides, although some officials have said that Israel will consider providing doses once all Israelis are vaccinated.
The Palestinian Authority has independently contracted with several providers — including AstraZeneca, Russia and China — to acquire doses, but very few have arrived.
The PA’s vaccination campaign was launched this month after the delivery of thousands of vaccines through the UN’s Covax program for poorer nations.
The PA announced it had started vaccinating the over-75s and some medical patients on March 21 after receiving 60,000 vaccine doses through Covax.
More than 20,000 of those doses have been transferred to Gaza. An additional 60,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine have been delivered to Gaza from the United Arab Emirates, in shipments brokered by a former top PA official currently exiled in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Dahlan.
Covax has also pledged doses to vaccinate another million Palestinians.