Israel’s vaccination of Palestinians holding work permits ramps up

Jerusalem, March 8 (AFP/APP): Israel on Monday launched a campaign to vaccinate some 100,000 Palestinians in the West Bank who hold permits to work in Jewish settlements in the occupied territory and inside the Jewish state.

A pilot programme involving 700 Palestinian West Bank residents began on Thursday. The Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in Palestinian territories, COGAT, said the main campaign involving an estimated 100,000 Palestinians would begin this week.

Israel’s emergency medical service, the Magen David Adom, said in a statement that it was administering shots on Monday of the Moderna vaccine at spots set up at select checkpoints linking the West Bank and Israel.

Vaccinations were also taking place at centres within industrial areas connected to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. About 475,000 Jews live in West Bank settlements, communities considered illegal by much of the international community. Thousands of Palestinians work in the settlements.

Palestinians in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following the 1967 Six Day War, have been included as part of a vaccination campaign launched in December for the general Israeli population. Israel has given two of the recommended Pfizer/BioNTech jabs to roughly 40 percent of its nine million population.

The country took another step towards post-pandemic normality on Sunday, opening restaurants, bars and cafes to vaccinated “green pass” holders. But in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, closures are being intensified to stem the spread of the virus. The governor of Ramallah on Saturday declared “a strict one week lockdown… over a spike in daily coronavirus infections and hospitalisations.”

That announcement came after the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry last week warned of a worrying rise in infections and hospitalisations. Nablus went into lockdown last week, while Tulkarm governorate, in the northern West Bank, enters lockdown on Tuesday.

Israel has faced widespread calls, including from the United Nations, to ensure inoculations of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank, and those in the Israeli-blockaded coastal enclave of Gaza. Israel has rejected those calls, insisting the PA is responsible for general vaccination in the West Bank and Gaza, which is controlled by Islamist group Hamas.

The PA has reached deals with multiple vaccine providers, notably the makers of Russia’s Sputnik V, but large-scale procurements have faced delays.

More than 140,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have been infected since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,579 of whom have died, out of a population of 2.8 million, according to official figures.

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