Palestinian health officials have accused Israel of preventing a vital first shipment of 2,000 coronavirus vaccines intended for frontline health workers from entering the blockaded Gaza Strip.
The blocking of the shipment is the latest in an ongoing row between the two sides over access to vaccines needed to stem the spread of the deadly pandemic.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said Monday that Israel bore “full responsibility” for preventing the Palestinian Authority (PA) from sending 2,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V to Gaza.
“The occupation authorities prevented their entry,” Alkaila, said in a statement. “These doses were intended for medical staff working in intensive care rooms designated for COVID-19 patients, and for staff working in emergency departments.”
Israeli officials have, however, refuted the claim saying it had yet to decide on a transfer request it received for just 1,000 Sputnik V doses.
Israel’s foreign affairs and defence committee discussed details of the vaccine transfer policy on Monday including, whether it be tied to the return of the remains of two Israelis soldiers and two Israeli civilians believed to be held in Gaza by Hamas militant group.
In the discussions, committee Chairman Zvi Hauser reportedly expressed concern that the vaccines would go to Hamas not medical workers.
The PA, which governs part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has said it will share its vaccine supply with Gaza, which is run by Islamic militant group Hamas that seized power from its forces in 2007.
The territory, which is home to more than two million Palestinians, has yet to receive any vaccines. Authorities there have reported more than 53,000 cases and over 530 deaths there since the start of the pandemic.
The Israeli embassy in London told The Independent: “Without coordinating with Israeli authorities, representatives of the Palestinian Authority arrived at the Beituniya crossing point next to Ramallah carrying 1,000 Sputnik vaccines donated by Russia, with the aim of transporting them into the Gaza Strip.”
It added: “The pandemic knows no borders and Israeli authorities are committed to working with the Palestinian ministry of health in order to fight it together. In light of the current situation, it is not useful for the issue of vaccines to be continuously used for political purposes.”
The latest spat comes amid growing criticism from rights groups concerned by the massive discrepancy between the vaccine rollout in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Israel has launched one of the most successful inoculation programmes giving the vaccine to more than a third of its population of 9.3 million since December.
Rights groups have also cited Israel’s obligations to vaccinate Palestinians as an occupying power under the fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel denies having such an obligation and says its priority is its own citizens, and has said that it has vaccinated Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem, as they have residency.
Israel provided 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the PA earlier this month, allowing it to begin vaccinating medical workers, and the PA says it independently acquired another 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.
But the PA would need Israel’s permission to transfer them to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas violently took over the strip in 2007.
The blockade has left Gaza’s healthcare system on the brink of collapse. It has meant that today nearly 50 per cent of the essential drug list is missing, including oncology drugs, heart medicines and items such as intensive care masks and intubation tubes. (Source: The Independent)