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In this file photo taken on November 4, 2018, Governor of occupied Jerusalem for the Palestinian National Authority Adnan Gaith poses for a photograph in Al Ram, in the occupied West Bank, near occupied Jerusalem. Image Credit: AFP

Occupied Jerusalem: The Israeli regime’s arrest of senior Palestinian officials for “illegal” efforts to contain coronavirus and the Zionist state’s closure of a clinic have exacerbated a long-running row over the status of east Jerusalem.

Since the onset of the health crisis, Palestinian officials allege the Arab population of the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem has been overlooked by Israeli efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

The occupation regime’s police recently shuttered a COVID-19 screening facility in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan - the testing was unauthorised, they said, because it was only overseen by the Palestinian National Authority, and not Israel.

“Our goal is to provide aid to the people of east Jerusalem who are intentionally being neglected” by Israel, Fadi Al Hadami, the Palestinian government’s minister for occupied Jerusalem affairs, told AFP.

But meetings with “hospital doctors in [occupied] Jerusalem, interviews with media calling on people to stay at home to fight corona(virus) - they [Israel] consider these things violations,” he lamented.

Earlier this month, Hadami and Adnan Gaith, the Palestinians’ governor of occupied Jerusalem, were detained by Israeli occupation forces amid their on-the-ground response to the coronavirus crisis.

Both men were released within 24 hours. But the spread of COVID-19 in predominantly Palestinian east Jerusalem risks exacerbating political tensions that could put lives at risk.

Israel captured that part of the city in a 1967 war and later annexed it in moves considered illegal under international law. It views the entire city as its undivided capital, banning any Palestinian government activity there.

The PNA considers east Jerusalem the capital of its own future state and tries to maintain a presence on the ground.

The city’s status was meant to be resolved as part of a final peace agreement between the two sides, but the diplomatic process between the Israeli regime and the Palestinians has long been dormant.

Israeli occupation police meanwhile enforce the prohibition of Palestinian political activity in occupied east Jerusalem.

Test clinics doubled

A total of 81 people have tested positive for coronavirus in occupied east Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Israel recently doubled the number of its screening centres in Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied east Jerusalem from three to six following a petition to the supreme court by a rights group.

The detention of the senior Palestinian officials this month was nothing new - Gaith has been arrested seven times in two years, Hadami four times.

But this time, the men said, they were not asked about political activities but their work spreading awareness about the coronavirus among Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem.

The two men are from occupied Jerusalem, but due to Israeli restrictions they work in Al Ram, on the other side of an Israeli wall separating the city and the occupied West Bank.

“If I walk in the street the Israelis consider it political because of my position,” Hadami said.

Israel will carry out such arrests “until it is cemented in peoples’ minds that the city is subject to its authority” alone, Gaith argued.

Since 2001, the height of the second bloody Palestinian intifada, Israel has closed more than 80 Palestinian institutions in occupied Jerusalem, he said.

And since the US broke with decades of diplomacy and international consensus by recognising occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, the regime has “escalated the pace of its activity”, he added.

Israel prevents “any visibility of Palestinians in [occupied] Jerusalem or activity of any kind.”

For Amal Jamal, a political scientist at Tel Aviv University, “on the one hand, Israel neglects the Palestinian part of the city and does not invest in it.

“On the other, it wants loyalty from the Palestinian population.”

Occupied Jerusalem’s ‘Mayor’ Moshe Lion meanwhile welcomed the opening of the new clinics in the city’s eastern sector.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted Israel was supplying equipment and training to the Palestinian Authority to help deal with the crisis.

The latest tensions have not so far erupted into violence in east Jerusalem.

But the police have enforced coronavirus restrictions against recalcitrant ultra-Orthodox citizens in occupied west Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighbourhood, one of the epicentres of the outbreak.

Three officers were wounded in clashes on Thursday when enforcing orders to keep synagogues closed.