Israel to transfer one million soon-to-expire Covid jabs to Palestinians

A woman receiving a vaccination (AP)
14:03pm, Fri 18 Jun 2021
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Israel has said it will transfer about one million doses of soon-to-expire coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for a similar number of doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this year.

Israel, which has reopened after vaccinating about 85% of its adult population, has faced criticism for not sharing its vaccines with the 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The agreement was announced by the new Israeli government that was sworn in on Sunday.

It said it would transfer Pfizer vaccines that will expire soon, and that the Palestinians would transfer a similar number of vaccines when it receives them from the pharmaceutical company In September or October.

Global Covid-19 cases and deaths (PA Graphics)

“We will continue to find effective ways to cooperate for the benefit of people in the region,” the Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, tweeted after the deal was announced.

Cogat, the Israeli military body that coordinates civilian affairs in the occupied territories, said it had coordinated the delivery of the first 100,000 doses to the West Bank on Friday.

The Palestinians portrayed the agreement differently, saying Pfizer had suggested the transfer as a way of speeding up its delivery of four million doses that the Palesinians had already paid for in an agreement reached directly with the drug company.

“This is not an agreement with Israel, but with the Pfizer company,” Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said, according to the official Wafa news agency.

Israel has carried out one of the most successful vaccination programs in the world, allowing it to fully reopen businesses and schools. This week, authorities lifted the requirement to wear masks in public, one of the last remaining restrictions.

Rights groups have said that Israel, as an occupying power, is obliged to provide vaccines to the Palestinians. Israel denies having such an obligation, pointing to interim peace agreements reached with the Palestinians in the 1990s.

Those agreements say the Palestinians, who have limited autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank, are responsible for health care but that the two sides should cooperate to combat pandemics.

Gaza is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and Western countries.

The Palestinian Authority has said it is acquiring its own supplies through agreements with private companies and a World Health Organisation programme designed to aid needy countries.

It was not immediately clear whether the expected Pfizer doses are being supplied through that programme, known as Covax, or a private arrangement.

To date, about 380,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and about 50,000 in Gaza have been vaccinated. More than 300,000 infections have been recorded in the two territories, including 3,545 deaths.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians want a state in all three territories. There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade.

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