Gaza City: Israel has allowed the Palestinian National Authority to deliver the first shipment of vaccines to the Gaza Strip.
An Associated Press photographer saw the shipment arrive at the Kerem Shalom crossing on Wednesday. The PNA said it sent 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Gaza.
The move comes two days after the PNA said Israel was preventing the shipment, which is intended front-line medics.
Israeli lawmakers had been debating whether to allow vaccines into Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007. Some had suggested the delivery of vaccines be linked to progress on the release of two captives held by Hamas.
An Israeli defence 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.
Gaza is home to more than 2 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.
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 PNA has not publicly requested vaccines from Israel and says it has secured its own supply through the World Health Organisation 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.
Hamas is believed to be holding two captives, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent who entered Gaza shortly after the 2014 war and an Arab Bedouin citizen of Israel. In exchange, Hamas is likely to demand the release of a large number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including individuals implicated in deadly attacks.