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Palestinians accuse Israel of blocking COVID-19 vaccines to Gaza

The Palestinian Authority on Monday accused Israel of refusing to allow some 2,000 coronavirus vaccine doses destined for Gaza health workers into the blockaded coastal strip.

The health ministry of the PA, based in the occupied West Bank, had planned to send the Russian Sputnik V doses to Gaza, a separate territory run by Hamas.

But on Monday evening, the ministry said Israel had blocked the transfer.

Israel carries “the full responsibility of this arbitrary move” said minister Mai Al-Kaila in a statement, saying her ministry was coordinating with international organizations to organize the delivery as soon as possible.

COGAT, the Israeli authority that runs civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, said the PA had requested to transfer 1,000 vaccine doses to Gaza but that “this request is waiting for a political decision.”

Israeli sources had told AFP in recent days that the transfer was not a simple administrative measure under the purview of COGAT, but rather a political decision possibly linked to talks between Hamas and Israel.

The two sides have fought three wars since 2008, and Israel has demanded the liberation of two Israeli hostages reportedly still in Gaza as well as the remains of two soldiers killed in the last war, in 2014.

Earlier Monday, the PA said it had pushed back the rollout of its vaccination campaign in the West Bank due to a delay in deliveries.

It had said it was anticipating a shipment by the middle of this month, enabling it to start vaccinating the general public in the occupied West Bank while sharing stock with Hamas.

“There has been a delay in the arrival of the vaccine,” Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said ahead of a weekly cabinet meeting, without providing further details.

He said the launch of vaccinations for the general public would be announced “at a later time,” when sufficient supplies arrive.

The PA is expecting some two million doses ordered from various manufacturers, in addition to vaccines from the UN-backed Covax program, set up to help less wealthy nations procure vaccines.

It began vaccinating frontline health care workers earlier this month with an initial procurement of 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, as well as several thousand doses of the Moderna product via Israel.

The Jewish state, which is carrying out one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns per capita, has faced international calls to share its stocks with Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Israeli-blockaded Gaza.

The PA has registered nearly 115,000 coronavirus cases in the West Bank, including nearly 1,400 deaths, while Hamas has recorded nearly 53,600 cases in Gaza, including 537 deaths.

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