First batch of Covid vaccine arrives in Gaza

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A first batch of coronavirus vaccines, enough to inoculate 1,000 people, arrived in Gaza on Wednesday, Palestinian and Israeli officials said, after Israel blocked a shipment earlier this week.

The Israeli military department responsible for civil affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (COGAT) said 1,000 Sputnik "vaccines" had been sent to the coastal enclave, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.

The Palestinian Authority, which controls the occupied West Bank, and Islamist movement Hamas, which runs Gaza, later clarified that the shipment comprised 1,000 two-dose sets of the vaccine.

"Shipments of 1,000 Sputnik vaccines, donated by Russia and allocated by the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip, have now moved to the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing," a COGAT statement said.

The PA health ministry said that the initial consignment was for "medical staff working in intensive care rooms designated for Covid-19 patients, and for the staff working in emergency departments."

Hamas confirmed it had received the vaccines which were now being "transported to the ministry's storage sites in Gaza City."

The PA received an initial supply of Sputnik V earlier this month and has launched a campaign to inoculate frontline healthcare workers in the West Bank.

The PA, which is dominated by president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement, has said it will share its supply with its Hamas rival, which took control of Gaza in 2007.

Israel has enforced a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas took power and blocked an initial shipment of Sputnik V from entering the territory on Monday.

- Political decision -

The PA called on the World Health Organization Tuesday to "condemn Israel" for its obstruction and urged it "to hold (Israel) fully responsible for the dangers arising from preventing the entry of vaccines into the Gaza Strip."

Hamas blasted the Israeli move as a "violation of all international laws and humanitarian standards."

COGAT said on Monday that a political decision was required before it could allow vaccines to enter Gaza, where Israel has fought three wars against Hamas since 2008.

On Wednesday, COGAT said the shipment had the "approval of the (Israeli) political echelons".

The PA is expecting some two million doses ordered from various manufacturers, in addition to vaccines from the UN-backed Covax programme, set up to help less wealthy nations procure vaccines.

The PA has said it will share its procurement with Hamas, as the rivals continue their unity push ahead of elections scheduled for later this year, the first Palestinian polls since 2006.

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