JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has agreed to transfer 5,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinians to immunize front-line medical workers, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office announced Sunday.
It was the first time that Israel has confirmed the transfer of vaccines to the Palestinians, who lag far behind Israel’s aggressive vaccination campaign and have not yet received any vaccines.
The World Health Organization has raised concerns about the disparity between Israel and Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and international human rights groups and U.N. experts have said Israel is responsible for the well being of Palestinians in these areas. Israel says that under interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s it is not responsible for the Palestinians and in any case has not received requests for help.
Gantz’s office said early Sunday the transfer had been approved. It had no further details on when that would happen. There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials.
Israel is one of the world’s leaders in vaccinating its population after striking procurement deals with international drug giants Pfizer and Moderna. The Health Ministry says nearly one-third of Israel’s 9.3 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine, while about 1.7 million people have received both doses.
The campaign includes Israel’s Arab citizens and Palestinians living in annexed east Jerusalem. But Palestinians living in the West Bank under the autonomy government of the Palestinian Authority and those living under Hamas rule in Gaza are not included.
The Palestinian Authority has been trying to acquire doses through a WHO program known as COVAX. But the program, which aims to procure vaccines for needed countries, has been slow to get off the ground.
The dispute reflects global inequality in access to vaccines, as wealthy countries vacuum up the lion’s share of doses, leaving poorer countries even farther behind in combating the public health and economic effects of the pandemic. It has also emerged as another flashpoint in the decades-old Mideast conflict, even as the virus has wreaked havoc on both sides.