UAE sends aid to Gaza, where 45% of virus tests return positive in past day

Hamas official says group has no intention of refusing, despite Gulf country’s normalization with Israel: ‘We’re facing a health disaster, we accept aid from everyone’

Children, mask-clad due to the COVID-19 pandemic, look out from the window of a vehicle transporting Palestinians about to cross onto the Egyptian side through the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, on November 24, 2020 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Children, mask-clad due to the COVID-19 pandemic, look out from the window of a vehicle transporting Palestinians about to cross onto the Egyptian side through the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, on November 24, 2020 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The United Arab Emirates announced on Wednesday that it had sent a shipment of coronavirus aid to the Gaza Strip in collaboration with an organization run by its preferred Palestinian proxy, Mohammad Dahlan, the former leader of the Fatah movement, which is a rival of the Hamas rulers of Gaza.

“The United Arab Emirates today sent a third aid plane carrying 14.4 metric tons of medical supplies and testing kits to the Gaza Strip,” the Emirati ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Relations between Palestinian factions and the UAE have grown tense in recent months due to Abu Dhabi’s decision in mid-August to fully normalize ties with Israel, which both the Hamas terror group and the Palestinian Authority deemed “a stab in the back” to the Palestinian cause.

Two previous Emirati aid shipments were rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, in May and June prior to the announcement of normalization, as Ramallah saw the planes landing at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport as a sign of Abu Dhabi’s move toward legitimizing Israel.

A senior Hamas health official dismissed the notion of ideological differences trumping the needs of Gaza’s civilian population, however.

“In the face of a health disaster, it would be inconceivable to reject aid that we need,” the official told The Times of Israel in a phone call on Wednesday.

Gaza’s coronavirus outbreak has been steadily deteriorating over the past few weeks. The coastal enclave saw a staggering 44.8 percent of coronavirus tests come back positive in the past 24 hours, the Hamas Health Ministry announced on Wednesday morning.

A Palestinian woman works on Christmas-themed masks in Gaza City on December 9, 2020 (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

According to Health Ministry figures, the Gaza Strip currently has 8,851 active coronavirus infections, and 220 Gazans have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

“Right now, we’re seeing around 10 deaths a day. We expect those numbers to continue to rise,” the Hamas health official said.

Gaza’s fragile health infrastructure has been worn down by three wars and a 13-year blockade by Israel and Egypt, which imposes tight restrictions on materials entering and exiting the coastal enclave. Hamas health officials regularly report shortages in medical supplies necessary to combat the coronavirus.

Israel argues that the blockade is necessary to prevent a far greater military threat from Gaza’s Hamas rulers, who avowedly seek to destroy the Jewish state. Rights groups, however, have condemned the devastating impact on Gaza’s civilian population and the economy entailed by the restrictions.

Palestinian farmers wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 prepare strawberries for export at a packing facility in the town of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on December 15, 2020. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The number of identified infections has dropped over the past week. But that is likely the result of extremely low testing — occasionally no more than several hundred tests a day for the Strip’s two million inhabitants — rather than a true decline in the spread of the virus. Gaza’s only testing center ceased processing new tests for two consecutive days last week due to a shortage of kits.

The Emirates said that the aid was being coordinated with the Takaful Commission, an organization affiliated with former Gaza intelligence chief Dahlan. Dahlan is a long-time rival of both the Hamas terror group and the current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

Mohammad Dahlan in 2006 (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

He was forced to flee to the West Bank after Hamas took control of the coastal enclave in 2007. After repeated clashes with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan left Ramallah for Abu Dhabi in 2011, where he is rumored to have become a close adviser to Emirati Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed.

While the Emrati aid had yet to formally arrive, the Hamas official noted that the Takaful Commission was operating with the transparent approval of Gaza’s de facto rulers.

“We don’t oppose this. If I’m hungry, and someone offers me a plate of food, how can I reject it? We need this medicine and this aid… We have no intention to refuse. Just the contrary, we welcome it from everyone,” the official said.

A spokesperson for Dahlan’s breakaway Fatah faction, the Democratic Reform Current, told The Times of Israel that Dahlan had been directly involved in procuring the Gaza aid.

“Mohammad Dahlan works to provide aid to the Palestinian people wherever they are, as long as he is given the opportunity to do so,” said the spokesperson, who praised “the brotherly actions of the Emirates.”

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