UAE Sends Pandemic Aid to Gaza, PA Announces Shutdown

YERUSHALAYIM -
Palestinian municipality and civil defense workers take part in a street cleaning and sterilization in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The United Arab Emirates shipped coronavirus aid to the Gaza Strip on Thursday through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, Hamas said.

“The medical supplies which arrived from the Emirates are important for Gaza. We thank the Emirates for its support and answering [our call for help] and we hope for further aid shipments, due to their importance,” Gaza-based Fatah official Ashraf Juma’a said.

According to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the shipment contains 14.4 metric tons of medical supplies and testing kits.

In Israel, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said Thursday that an anticipated surplus of vaccines might be made available to the Palestinian Authority, which is relying on a World Health Organization handout that may be months away, The Times of Israel reported.

Kisch told Kan Bet Radio that Israel was working to acquire a surplus of vaccines for Israelis and that “should we see that Israel’s demands have been met and we have additional capability, we will certainly consider helping the Palestinian Authority.” He added that doing so would also help prevent a resurgence of outbreaks in Israel proper.

Asher Shalmon, a Health Ministry official, said its approach was in line with past agreements. The Oslo accords require the PA to maintain international vaccination standards and say the sides must exchange information and cooperate in combating epidemics.

The PA hopes to get vaccines through the WHO-led partnership with humanitarian organizations known as COVAX, which aims to provide free vaccines for up to 20 percent of the population of poor countries hard-hit by the pandemic.

But the program has secured only a fraction of the 2 billion doses it hopes to buy over the next year, has yet to confirm any actual deals, and is short on cash. Rich countries have already reserved about 9 billion of the estimated 12 billion doses the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year.

Dr. Ali Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian health official, told AP that they are in talks with Pfizer and Moderna — whose vaccines require extra-cold storage — as well as AstraZeneca and the makers of a largely untested Russian vaccine, but has yet to sign any agreements beyond COVAX. The PA also have few of the special storage units.

The Palestinian Authority has reported more than 85,000 cases in Yehuda and Shomron, including more than 800 deaths, and the outbreak has intensified in recent weeks.

In Gaza, matters are worse: over 30,000 cases, including 220 deaths.

Also on Thursday, the Palestinian Authority announced a two-week closure in the areas it controls in Yehuda and Shomron, in an effort to contain the outbreak.

The closure will not be as intense as some of the previous lockdowns, in which all stores were closed except for pharmacies and grocery stores. But all schools, universities, restaurants, barbershops, gyms and leisure venues will be closed starting Thursday, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a speech.