Palestinian leaders have announced that they expect their first batch of coronavirus vaccines to arrive by March, as the West Bank and Gaza face an anxious wait to receive jabs while Israel presses ahead with its record-setting vaccination drive.
This week the Palestinian Authority said it had secured a provisional agreement with AstraZeneca and was seeking doses from Moderna, as well as the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine.
The Palestinians are also working with the World Health Organisation to receive free vaccines under the Covax scheme.
It came as Palestinian officials accused Israel of “ignoring” its duties as an occupying power to assist them in protecting their people from the disease.
“The search by the Palestinian leadership to secure the vaccines from various sources doesn’t exempt Israel from its responsibilities towards the Palestinian people in providing the vaccines,” the Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Israel refutes this and says it has no legal obligation to provide vaccines for the West Bank and Gaza, as the Oslo peace accords state that this is the duty of Palestinian leaders.
However, according to Israeli media reports, the Israeli government provided the Palestinian authorities with around 100 vaccine doses earlier this month as a “humanitarian gesture.”
Israel has already given the first coronavirus jab to more than two million people – around 20 per cent of the population – as part of the world’s fastest vaccinations programme.
The 1990s-era Oslo accords grant the Palestinian Authority limited self-rule in the West Bank while the Gaza strip is controlled by Islamist group Hamas.
While the accords say Palestinian authorities should vaccine their own citizens, they also says both sides are required to “cooperate in combating” epidemics and contagious diseases.
Arab-Israeli citizens, and Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem, are already able to receive vaccines from the Israeli programme. But human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, are putting pressure on the Israeli government to provide further assistance.
In a recent statement, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East, Saleh Higazi, accused Israel of “instutionalised discrimination.”
“While Israel celebrates a record-setting vaccination drive, millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or have to wait much longer,” he said.
Husam Zomlot, a senior Palestinian diplomat in London, described the situation as “vaccine apartheid” in a post on Twitter, a charge that Israel denies.
Palestinian officials said on Wednesday that they had recorded 30 deaths from coronavirus in the past 24 hours, while more than 90 people are in intensive care units.
To date, coronavirus has caused around 1,800 deaths in the Palestinian territories.