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Thousands of Covid vaccines from UAE arrive in Gaza

Published on February 21, 2021

Around 20,000 coronavirus vaccine doses from the UAE arrived in Gaza Sunday, a delivery reportedly orchestrated by a rival of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas three months before scheduled Palestinian elections.

The shipment came the same day Gaza lifted restrictions in place since August on gatherings at wedding halls and gyms.

The Russian-made Sputnik V doses entered Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, AFP journalists said — meaning they did not pass through Israel, which has maintained a tight blockade on Gaza since 2007.

Last week, Mohammed Dahlan, a former top member of Abbas’s Fatah party, now exiled in the United Arab Emirates, announced the delivery of the vaccines as a “generous grant” from Abu Dhabi.

Dahlan, currently a security adviser to UAE strongman Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, has claimed credit for the delivery, which some Palestinians are seeing as a political move ahead of May and July legislative and presidential polls.

A statement Sunday from the Reform Movement, the dissident branch of the Fatah party Dahlan controls, said the vaccines were for “medical teams” in Gaza, which has not yet begun a general vaccination campaign.

Sufyan Abu Zaida, head of the Reform Movement in the strip, said the Gaza shipment was thanks to a “generous donation from the brotherly UAE and a result of the efforts made by Muhammad Dahlan to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people”.

– Restrictions lifted –

Analysts are watching Dahlan’s moves closely ahead of the Palestinian elections, the first since 2006, amid speculation he may try to mount a challenge to Abbas’s camp.

A first batch of vaccine doses arrived in Gaza this week, part of a Sputnik V supply secured by the Abbas-controlled Palestinian Authority.

The PA has said it will share its supply with the Hamas Islamists, who control Gaza.

That shipment was sent by the PA from the occupied West Bank through Israel, which had initially blocked its delivery to Gaza.

An Israeli security official said the decision needed “political” instructions before allowing vaccines into the coastal enclave, where Israel has fought three wars against Hamas since 2008.

Both Hamas and the PA have accused Israel of violating international law by stemming the free flow of vaccines into Gaza.

Rights groups and the UN have called on Israel, currently the world leader in vaccinations per capita, to ensure that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are vaccinated.

Also on Sunday, Hamas announced wedding halls and gyms could operate again.

Gaza resident Fadi al-Raqb said he had postponed his marriage for three months so as to have a big wedding when coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

“When the interior ministry announced the opening of the halls, I felt joy and relief, and I was able to invite my relatives and friends,” the groom told AFP on Sunday.

Abdullah al-Afrangi, who runs Gaza City’s Royal Fitness Club, said he was reopening the club for the first time after five months, with only some of his members rejoining, meaning he was facing short-term losses.

“I’m opening the club today… but people are still afraid of coronavirus,” he said.