Israeli Defense Chief: Help for Gaza Against Virus Could Depend on Return of Soldiers’ Bodies
The Israeli defense minister said on Wednesday that Israel should condition any assistance it offers to the Gaza Strip in fighting the spread of the coronavirus on the recovery of bodies of Israeli soldiers that Hamas has been holding since the 2014 war in the enclave. The Hamas-run government in Gaza has to date reported 12 coronavirus cases among the 2 million residents of the territory. Both sides have closed the strip’s border with Israel to limit spread of the pathogen. Health care workers say that Gaza – densely populated, impoverished, and under partial siege from Israel and Egypt – is woefully unprepared to handle a major outbreak of COVID-12. “The moment there is talk of the humanitarian world in Gaza – Israel also has humanitarian needs, which are mainly the recovery of the fallen,” Defence Minister Naftali Bennett told reporters, referring to two soldiers, Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul, who were killed in the 2014 war and whose remains have been kept by Hamas. “And I think that we need to enter a broad dialogue about Gaza’s and our humanitarian needs. It would not be right to disconnect these things … and certainly, our hearts would be open to many things.” Palestinian officials on Wednesday said 1,500 coronavirus testing kits, donated by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, would be brought to Gaza with the help of the World Health Organization. Hamas has rejected the idea of trading the bodies of the two fallen soldiers, as well as two living Israeli civilians held captive since they crossed into the territory, for humanitarian aid. “Israel bears responsibility for any consequences should the disease spread in Gaza because it has been blockading it for 13 years,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.