Gaza received its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines on Wednesday after Israel approved the transfer through its border with Hamas Islamist territory, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.
Israel has come under international criticism for largely excluding Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza from its highly successful vaccination campaign. It held the broadcast for two days when the government faced a hearing from a parliamentary committee before finally approving it.
On Wednesday, Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said in a statement that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had sent 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to the Hamas-controlled enclave.
The shipment finally arrived on Wednesday at the Kerem Shalom junction.
The dispute highlights the Palestinians’ dependence on Israel even as they fight to fight the pandemic on their own. It is also a powerful example of global inequality in the development of vaccines, most of which have been addressed by rich countries.
Gaza is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, many of whom live close by. It has been under Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas, an Islamic militant group, seized power from PA forces in 2007. The Gaza Ministry of Health has reported more than 53,000 cases and at least 538 deaths since the pandemic began.
Israeli lawmakers debate while Gaza waits for vaccines
Israeli lawmakers had discussed whether to allow the delivery of vaccines to Gaza.
Some had argued that the supply should be linked to progress in the release of two Israeli prisoners held by Hamas and the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in a 2014 war with Palestinian militants.
They have also expressed concern that vaccines would go to Hamas members rather than medicines.
On Tuesday, the PA called on the World Health Organization to “condemn Israel” for its obstacles and called on it to “hold (Israel) fully responsible for the dangers arising from preventing the entry of vaccines into the Gaza Strip”.
Hamas blew up the Israeli operation as a “violation of all international laws and humanitarian standards.”
Russia’s vaccine, given in two doses, was initially met with skepticism as it had not undergone thorough testing of other vaccines, but a new study shows that it is safe and effective. Nevertheless, the first batch only allows authorities to vaccinate 1,000 people, and a broader vaccination campaign can take several months.
‘The amount is very small’
PA said the first doses would go to medical workers on the front lines. But Ashraf al-Qedra, a spokesman for the Gaza Ministry of Health, said they would be administered in two phases, first to vulnerable patients and then to doctors.
“The amount is very small and not enough to cover all 12,000 medical staff,” he said. “We think it is better to first inoculate vulnerable patients, such as organ transplantation and dialysis patients.”
Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination programs and inoculated more than a third of the population of 9.3 million since December.
Rights groups say it has an occupying power obligation to share its vaccines with the Palestinians. Israel conquered the West Bank during the 1967 war, and the Palestinians want it to be the most important part of their future state.
Israel denies having such an obligation, saying its priorities are its own citizens. PA has not publicly requested vaccines from Israel and says that it has secured its own delivery through the World Health Organization and agreements with pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Israel still delivered 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to PA earlier this month, which made it possible to start vaccinating medical workers, and the PA says it has independently acquired 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. The PA administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and coordinates with Israel on security and other issues.
( Jowharwith AP, REUTERS and AFP)