Palestinians enter new blockade while waiting for vaccines

JERUSALEM – The Palestinian Authority on Saturday announced a new set of lockdown restrictions on the West Bank as coronavirus infections rise and Palestinians await the launch of a major vaccination program.

The move comes as Israel has secured an ample supply of the vaccine for itself and has advanced its own inoculation program, outpacing the rest of the world. The imbalance has added a new layer of friction to the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has prompted scrutiny of Israel’s obligations in the occupied territories.

The lockdown restrictions, which will last 12 days, include the closure of universities, nightly restrictions on travel and non-essential commerce, and a ban on gatherings for weddings, parties and funerals.

Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said on Saturday that there had been 910 new cases and five deaths in the West Bank in the past 24 hours. Another Palestinian, he added, had died in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after contracting Covid-19.

Three more Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Ms. Al-Kaila said, had died of the disease in recent days.

About 91 percent of Palestinians infected with the disease since last March have recovered, al-Kaila said. Overall, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, there have been around 206,440 confirmed cases among Palestinians over the past year, including about 24,500 in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel.

Israel’s vaccination program extends to all East Jerusalem residents, but many Palestinians have been reluctant to get vaccinated, in part, residents said, due to little trust in Israeli authorities and a spate of negative and unsuccessful rumors. rationale for the vaccine circulating on social media. media.

Israeli officials say the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-government in parts of the West Bank, took over responsibility for health services in its areas of control when the interim peace accords known as the Oslo Accords were signed in mid-September. 1990s.

Israel has vaccinated more than half of its population of 9.2 million with a first dose and more than a third with a second dose, but has so far provided the Palestinian Authority with just 2,000 doses of vaccines and promised 3,000 more. More than 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and two million more in Gaza.

Israeli officials have said they are interested in helping the Palestinians once Israeli citizens, including hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank, have been fully vaccinated. They have indicated that they may begin vaccinating tens of thousands of Palestinian workers who regularly come to work within Israel and that they may transfer more vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, but no details have been provided.

Human rights defenders have argued that Israel should vaccinate the Palestinian population in parallel with its own citizens. They cite the Fourth Geneva Convention, according to which the occupying powers are obliged to guarantee the public health of people living under occupation as far as possible. An annex to the Oslo Accords also calls for cooperation to combat epidemics.

The dispute has been compounded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent foray into vaccine diplomacy, promising to send thousands of replacement doses to Hungary’s allies in Guatemala. That effort has been put on hold while Israel’s attorney general examines whether decision-making was conducted through the proper channels.

So far, the Palestinians have received 10,000 doses from Russia of its Sputnik V vaccine, 2,000 of which were transferred from the West Bank to Gaza. Last weekend, another shipment of 20,000 Russian doses donated by the United Arab Emirates entered Gaza through the border with Egypt.

Palestinian officials expect to receive 37,440 doses of Pfizer and hundreds of thousands of doses of AstraZeneca through the Covax global exchange initiative sometime in March. Additional supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine are also expected.

Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority said on Saturday that global competition was primarily responsible for delays in a major vaccine launch, but that a batch of vaccines was expected to arrive next week, according to Wafa. Palestinian official news agency.

Israel is still battling high infection rates, despite its successful vaccine launch, and has imposed a nightly travel ban since Thursday in an effort to avoid parties during the Purim holiday.

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