The Palestinian Authority said Wednesday it has dispatched the first shipment of coronavirus vaccines to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, two days after accusing Israel of preventing it from sending the doses amid objections from some Israeli lawmakers.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said in a statement that the PA sent 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine through the Beitunia crossing en route to Gaza. She said they would go to front-line medical workers.
An IDF official confirmed that the vaccines were on their way to Gaza following approval, saying it’s “not in Israel’s interest to have a Gaza health crisis.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Israeli MKs had debated whether to allow the delivery of vaccines into Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas, an Islamic terror group, seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Some lawmakers 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 programs, inoculating more than a third of its population of 9.3 million since December.
Israel 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 Organization and agreements with drug makers.
Still, Israel provided 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the PA earlier this month, allowing it to begin vaccinating medical workers, and the PA says it independently acquired another 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. It would need Israel’s permission to transfer them to Gaza.