GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – The Palestinian Authority sent the first shipment of coronavirus vaccines to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Wednesday, two days after accusing Israel of preventing it from dispatching doses in through objections from some Israeli lawmakers.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said in a statement that the AP sent 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. An Associated Press photographer in Gaza saw the shipment arrive at noon at the Kerem Shalom intersection.
An Israeli defense official said the authorities approved the handover, adding that “it is not in Israel’s interest to have a health crisis in Gaza”. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, according to the regulations.
Gaza is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, many of whom live in confinement. It has been under Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas, an Islamic militant group, seized power by PA forces in 2007. The Gaza Health Ministry has reported more than 53,000 cases and at least 538 deaths since the pandemic began.
Israeli lawmakers debated vaccine delivery in Gaza should be allowed. Some argued that the handover should be linked to progress in the release of two Israeli prisoners held by Hamas and the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in a 2014 war with Palestinian militants. They also expressed concern that the vaccines would go to Hamas members, not doctors.
The vaccine from Russia, which is administered in two doses, was initially met with skepticism because it had not undergone rigorous testing of other vaccines, but a recent study indicates that it is safe and effective. Still, the first batch will only allow authorities to vaccinate 1,000 people, and a broader vaccination campaign could take several months.
The Palestinian Authority said the first doses would go to frontline health workers. But Ashraf al-Qedra, a spokesman for the Gaza Ministry of Health, said they would be administered in two stages, first for vulnerable patients and then for doctors.
“The amount is very small and not enough to cover all 12,000 medical workers,” he said. “We thought it best to first inoculate vulnerable patients, like organ transplant patients and dialysis.”
Israel has launched one of the most successful vaccination programs in the world, inoculating more than a third of its population of 9.3 million since December.
Human rights groups say they have an obligation, as an occupying power, to share their vaccines with the Palestinians. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war, and the Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state.
Israel denies having such an obligation and says that 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 Organization and agreements with drug manufacturers.
Still, Israel provided 2,000 doses of the Modern vaccine for PA earlier this month., allowing him to start vaccinating medical workers, and the PA says it independently purchased 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. The AP administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and coordinates with Israel on security and other issues.
Hamas is believed to be holding two prisoners, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent who entered Gaza shortly after the 2014 war and an Arab Bedouin citizen of Israel. In return, Hamas is likely to demand the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including individuals involved in deadly attacks.
Associated Press writers Joseph Krauss and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.