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Covid-19: Israel to administer vaccines to Palestinian workers

Vaccination campaign could include around 130,000 Palestinians working inside Israel
Palestinian workers line up for a security check at the entrance to Israel's Mishor Adumim industrial zone near the Maale Adumim settlement in the occupied West Bank on 1 July 2020 (AFP)

Israel will vaccinate Palestinians who work in Israel or in its settlements in the occupied West Bank against Covid-19, the Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in Palestinian territories said on Sunday.

The vaccination campaign will begin within days, and the vaccine could be administered to around 130,000 Palestinians, COGAT said.

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COGAT said in a statement there had been political approval "to conduct a vaccination campaign for Palestinian workers with employment licenses in Israel and in the communities across Judea and Samaria, in reference to the occupied West Bank. 

Shaher Saad, secretary-general of the Palestinian Workers' Union, said thousands of Palestinians who work in the Israeli services and industrial sectors had already been vaccinated privately by their employers inside Israel.

He said Palestinian medical teams would be stationed at checkpoints to provide the jabs, by agreement with Israeli authorities.

Israel has given at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc vaccine to more than half of its 9.3 million population, including Palestinians in East Jerusalem, in the world's highest number of vaccines administered per capita.

But it has come under international criticism for not doing more to enable vaccination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories that Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinians have accused Israel of ignoring its duties as an occupying power by not including the Palestinians in its inoculation programme.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) criticised Israel on Tuesday for failing to give vaccines to Palestinians. 

"Israel is an occupying power and has millions of vaccines. Palestine is the occupied territory and has barely a few thousand," said Matthias Kennes, MSF's medical adviser to Palestine.

However, Israeli officials have said that, under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian health ministry is responsible for vaccinating people in Gaza and those parts of the West Bank where it has limited self-rule. 

The Palestinians have received around 32,000 vaccine doses to date, for the 5.2 million people who live in the West Bank and Gaza.

Dan Waites, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, welcomed the initiative but called for more to be done to ensure a full access to the vaccines for all Palestinians. 

"The Palestinian population remains, in the main, unprotected from COVID-19, and we would be glad to see more initiatives of this kind. We would like to see full, equitable access to vaccines for all Israelis and Palestinians," he said.

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