Israel has said it permitted 1,000 coronavirus vaccines that Russia donated to the Palestinians to be transferred into Gaza, after protests from health officials after the delivery was initially blocked.
A statement from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an Israeli army unit, said that the shipment has entered blockaded Gaza, in accordance with a request by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
“The delivery of the vaccines is on its way to the Gaza Strip,” the statement read.
According to Israeli media, the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz approved the transfer.
On Monday, Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said that Israel bore “full responsibility” for preventing the PA from sending the doses to Gaza as the jabs had been held at the border crossing from the occupied West Bank, where the PA is based, into Israel.
Israel controls movement between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are geographically separated and so the delivery of the jabs requires Israeli permission.
The PA has said it will share its vaccine supply with Gaza, which is run by Islamic militant group Hamas that seized power from its forces in 2007.
The territory, which is home to more than two million Palestinians, has yet to receive any vaccines. Authorities there have reported more than 53,000 cases and over 530 deaths there since the start of the pandemic.
Israeli officials attributed the delay to discussions over the vaccine transfer policy which is sensitive in Israel because of ongoing confrontation between Hamas.
Israel’s foreign affairs and defence committee discussed on Monday whether it be tied to the return of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israelis soldiers believed to be held in Gaza by Hamas militant group.
Parents of one of the soldiers had reportedly petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to prevent the transfer.
In the committee discussions, committee Chairman Zvi Hauser reportedly expressed concern that the vaccines would go to Hamas, not medical workers.
The Israeli embassy in London said it was not useful to use the issue of vaccines “for political purposes” saying “the pandemic knows no borders and Israeli authorities are committed to working with the Palestinian ministry of health in order to fight it together”.
But rights groups have raised the alarm about the massive discrepancy between the vaccine rollout in Israel, which has now vaccinated two thirds of eligible Israelis with one jab and Gaza where no vaccines have been administered.
Rights groups have said Israel has an obligation to vaccinate the nearly five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza under the fourth Geneva convention as the occupying force.
Israel refutes this obligation and says it had vaccinated Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem. It provided 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the PA earlier this month, allowing it to begin vaccinating medical workers. The PA says it independently acquired another 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.
It needs Israel’s permission to transfer them to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas violently took over the strip in 2007.
The 14-year blockade has had a devastating impact on Gaza’s healthcare system which is on the verge of collapse.
At least 40 percent of the essential drug list is missing while in December Gaza officials warned that they were running low on supplies of coronavirus PCR tests and oxygen.
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