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Palestinian Authority says it has sent vaccines to Gaza

An Israeli woman receives a Covid-19 jab at a drive-in vaccination centre in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. Israel is leading the world in terms of vaccine roll-out; an international group of bishops has urged the international community to 'hold Israel accountable for its moral, legal and humanitarian responsibility to make Covid-19 vaccines accessible for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza'. Picture by AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner
Fares Akram, Associated Press

The Palestinian Authority has dispatched the first shipment of coronavirus vaccines to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, it has said.

The announcement comes two days after the authority accused Israel of preventing it from sending the doses amid objections from some Israeli politicians.

Palestinian health minister Mai Alkaila said the authority had sent 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine through the Beitunia crossing between the occupied West Bank and Israel en route to Gaza.

She said they would go to frontline medical workers.

An Israeli defence official confirmed that the vaccines were on their way to Gaza following approval, saying it was “not in Israel’s interest to have a Gaza health crisis”.

Israeli politicians had debated whether to allow the delivery of vaccines into Gaza, which has been under an Israeli/Egyptian blockade since Hamas, an Islamic militant group, seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

The Palestinian Authority administers parts of the West Bank and co-ordinates with Israel on security and other matters.

Some politicians have said the delivery should be linked to progress on the release of two Israeli captives held by Hamas and the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in a 2014 war.

They have also expressed concern that the first batch of vaccines will go to Hamas members rather than medics.

Gaza is home to more than two million Palestinians, many of whom live in close confines, and has yet to receive any vaccines.

Authorities there have reported more than 53,000 cases and at least 538 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination programmes, inoculating more than a third of its population of 9.3 million since December.

Human rights groups say it has an obligation as an occupying power to share its vaccines with the Palestinians.

Israel denies having such an obligation and says its priority is its own citizens.

The Palestinian Authority has not publicly requested vaccines from Israel and says it has secured its own supply through the World Health Organisation and agreements with pharmaceutical firms.

Israel provided 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the Palestinian Authority earlier this month, allowing it to begin vaccinating medical workers, and the authority says it has independently acquired another 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

But it would need Israel’s permission to transfer them to Gaza.

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