Photo by Eitan Elhadez-Barak/TPS on 15 December, 2020

PA Accuses Israel of Blocking COVID-19 Vaccines for Gaza; Israel Doesn’t Want Hamas Stealing Them

Public By Aryeh Savir/TPS • 16 February, 2021

Jerusalem, 16 February, 2021 (TPS) -- The Palestinian Authority’s Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila accused Israel of banning the transfer of Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines to health workers in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, while Israeli officials expressed concern over the vaccines being commandeered by Hamas’ leadership.

Al-Kaila stated on Monday that her ministry is preparing to transfer 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine to the Gaza Strip, but Israel has refused to let the vaccines into the Strip.

Al-Kaila said the vaccines were intended for medical staff working in the COVID-19 intensive care units, and the teams working in emergency departments.

She stressed that the PA is communicating with “international organizations” to pressure Israel to allow the entry of vaccines into the Strip.

In the meantime, the Knesset’s Subcommittee on Policy and Strategy discussed on Monday the transfer of COVID-19 vaccines to the PA.

Dr. Asher Salmon, head of the Department of International Relations at the Ministry of Health, said that according to the Oslo and Paris Accords, the PA is responsible for the health of its residents, but Israel is assisting the PA as much as possible for both humanitarian and epidemiological reasons.

“Due to the frequent movement of the Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria, and the entry of Gaza residents for different reasons, we will not be able to control the pandemic without the help of the vaccines,” he said.

The Israeli government has reserved 5,000 doses of the Pfizer-developed vaccine for healthcare workers in the PA.

No vaccines from Israel’s stock have been transferred to Gaza, and no request to that effect has been made, Salmon said.

The PA has requested to transfer to medical teams in Gaza some of the vaccines they received from Russia, and this request is being discussed by the National Security Council (NSC).

IDF Col. Eyal Zeevi, who heads the operations department for the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), said that of the 5,000 doses reserved for the PA, only 2,000 have actually been transferred.

He said that 10,000 doses of the Russian vaccine had been transferred to the PA, which requested that 1,000 be transferred to Gaza for healthcare workers there.

The transfer of those vaccines, Zeevi said, has been delayed pending Israel’s decision on a Gaza policy. He added that Israel would not transfer any vaccines for Gaza directly, the question was whether to allow the PA to transfer them.

He said another 37,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are set to arrive in the coming weeks through COVAX, an international vaccine mechanism that aims to provide free vaccines, for up to 20% of the PA population.

From March to July, some 405,000 AstraZeneca vaccines are expected to be delivered to the PA.

NSC official Roi Binyamini said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the transfer of 5,000 doses to the PA, in accordance with the recommendations of the security establishment and the Health Ministry.

Committee Chairman Member of Knesset (MK) Zvi Hauser asked Binyamini to provide details on the government’s policy regarding the transfer of vaccine doses to Gaza and whether the government plans to demand, within the framework of the transfer, the return of the remains of IDF soldiers and the return of Israelis citizens who are being held captive by Hamas in Gaza.

Binyamini responded that “in the current reality, Israel does not intend to transfer vaccines from its stock to the Gaza Strip. Regarding the transfer of vaccines of the Palestinian Authority or a third party, a request was recently received, and it is being examined by all relevant parties and in accordance with the wide range of considerations.”

He said the NSC’s recommendation should be finalized by Tuesday.

MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh said that “Gaza is ruled by a murderous terrorist organization, which holds two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two soldiers, in addition to two million Palestinian citizens captive.”

“Hamas, which denies the rights of people and children in Gaza, doesn’t want to be subject to international law, it just wants to benefit from it. Like any other system, when there is no reciprocity, it collapses. There cannot be a one-way system,” she added.

Hauser, concluded that the Knesset is “committed to turning every stone to ensure that Israeli citizens who were abducted to the Gaza Strip return to their homes and the bodies of our fallen reach the grave of Israel.”

“The PA wants to deliver vaccine doses to 500 medical staff members, but I doubt it and assume that they will be passed on to the leaders of Hamas first and foremost. I assume that they will be passed on to those responsible for their abduction and possibly those guarding the Israeli abductees. I don’t see [Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar taking his vaccine and giving it to the compassionate nurse in Gaza. Let’s not be naïve,” he underscored.

He suggested having the vaccinations carried out in Israel, or at the border crossings, “so that Israel will know and verify exactly who received the vaccine.”

Finally, Hauser argued that “at the very least there should be a demand for information regarding the fate of the two Israelis,” Hisham Al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu, believed to be held captive by Hamas.

Israel has not received any information regarding their fate, and the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit them.

Hauser said that the demand should be both for their release from captivity, and the return of the remains of the two IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul killed during the IDF’s 2014 counterterrorism Operation Protective Edge.