The Gaza Strip received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday after Israel approved its transfer through its borders.
“This morning, 1,000 Sputnik vaccines donated by Russia are being transferred from the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip, in accordance with the Palestinian Authority’s request and the approval of the political echelon,” an Israeli security official said in a statement.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said the Palestinian Authority shipped enough doses to inoculate 1,000 people. The doses arrived midday Wednesday at the Kerem Shalom crossing. According to the Associated Press, the shipment arrived despite objections from a group of Israeli lawmakers who spent two days arguing that the doses should be used as a bargaining chip for the release of captives held by the impoverished territory’s militant Hamas rulers.
In an interview Wednesday with Israel’s army radio station, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the vaccines came from Palestinian supplies and that he was still working to repatriate Israelis held captive in Gaza, though he did not link that issue to Wednesday's delivery.
Netanyahu also said it was important to allow doses of the vaccine into Palestinian territories because the virus can easily cross into Israel, which has faced international criticism for excluding Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza from its highly successful vaccination campaign.
Gaza, home to 2 million people, has reported more than 53,000 coronavirus cases and 538 deaths. Authorities in the region have been hesitant to impose sweeping lockdowns given the poverty in the territory.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007, when Hamas, an Islamic militant group, seized control of the territory from the Palestinian Authority.