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Shtayyeh Blames Israel for Coronavirus Spike, Says He’ll Bring in UN

Palestinian officials say lack of control over lands part of reason for resurgence  

The rapid rise in the number of persons infected with COVID-19 in the West Bank has taken place because the Palestinian Authority does not control its borders and the crossings to Israel, in addition to the latter’s “racist measures,” PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said on Monday.

Shtayyeh, speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah, stressed that Israel should close all crossings to the Palestinian territories and indicated that his government would ask the United Nations for monitoring services.

Omar Awadallah, head of public administration for UN human rights organizations at the PA Foreign Ministry, told The Media Line that Israel’s “illegal control of the so-called Area C,” which is under full Israeli administrative and security jurisdiction according to the 1995 Oslo II Accord, and Israel’s preventing the Palestinian security forces and institutions from working there, had made a major contribution to the increase in novel coronavirus cases.

“The Israeli control of the so-called [military] checkpoints between the Palestinian lands and historical Palestine has played a very negative role, as Israel opens and closes these checkpoints whenever it wishes,” Awadallah said.

The Israeli control of the so-called [military] checkpoints between the Palestinian lands and historical Palestine has played a very negative role, as Israel opens and closes these checkpoints whenever it wishes

Israel’s “racist practices” during the global pandemic aimed to plunge the Palestinian territories into instability and a lack of control, he charged, “especially in terms of the Palestinian workers in Israel, as the latter treats them in a racist way.”

He also cited a UN General Assembly resolution from April 2 calling for international cooperation to counter the spread of the virus as “something which Israel isn’t doing or observing.”

Shtayyeh pointed out that 82% of the West Bank’s COVID-19 infections came from contact at weddings and houses of mourning, while 18% came from workers and others traveling between the West Bank and Israel.

Gilead Sher, a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies and a former aide to then-prime minister Ehud Barak, told The Media Line that Shtayyeh’s allegations were groundless.

“The COVID-19 virus knows no boundaries, and in fact, Israel itself is currently undergoing a second wave of the epidemic, graver than the initial one,” he said.

Sher added that since the beginning of the outbreak, Hamas, the armed group that rules the Gaza Strip, had quietly allowed dozens of Gaza doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to obtain COVID-19 training in Israel or from Israeli medical staff.

“From an Israeli perspective, the full dimensions of the multi-dimensional crisis in the region − health-wise, societal-wise and economy-wise − are as yet unclear,” he elaborated. “Nevertheless, the virus crisis has not, and will not, fundamentally change trends and power dynamics in the Middle East.”

Sher explained that a retrospective of the first half of 2020 in the region suggested that the epidemic had not led to greater cooperation among Middle Eastern countries.

“Most of the economic and health interactions have been with countries outside the region,” he stated.

In addition, he said, the dramatic fall in oil prices that hit the energy exporters hard had reduced to a bare minimum the expectations for critical aid from Western and Gulf states.

The PA Health Ministry announced on Monday morning that 64 new cases of coronavirus had been recorded in the West Bank: 34 in Hebron, 14 in Jerusalem, three in Ramallah and the adjacent city of Al-Bireh, eight in Bethlehem, one in Nablus, two in the Jericho Governorate and two in Tulkarem.

There have been 4,786 confirmed cases in the Palestinians territories since the outbreak began.