The first doses of coronavirus vaccine arrived in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after Israel approved their delivery.
Mai al-Kaila, the health minister of the Palestinian Authority, said that 2,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine had been shipped to the territory.
She said the vaccines would be allocated to frontline medical teams, but the territory’s Health Ministry said the first priority would be dialysis patients and people undergoing transplants, followed by medical workers.
The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule over parts of the West Bank, while the Hamas militant group controls Gaza. In Gaza, with a population of about 2 million, the number of recorded COVID cases has declined sharply after a surge in December.
The vaccines were delivered amid a heated debate over whether Israel bears responsibility for the health of Palestinians living in occupied territory.
While human rights groups have argued international law requires Israel to provide Palestinians with access to vaccines on a par with what it makes available to its own citizens, supporters of Israel’s policies have contended that the Palestinians assumed responsibility for health services when they signed the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.
The vaccines delivered to Gaza were not supplied by Israel but by the Palestinian Authority.
Still, their transfer required Israeli approval and provoked a debate in Israel’s Parliament. Several right-wing lawmakers had demanded that the government make their delivery conditional on the return of two Israeli citizens and of the bodies of two soldiers believed to be held by Hamas.
“It is forbidden for Israel and its leader to abandon the fate of captive citizens and give up an opportunity to bring back the bodies of the fallen soldiers,” Zvi Hauser, a member of Parliament, told a parliamentary committee that discussed the matter on Monday.
A Hamas spokesman rejected the idea as “an attempt at extortion.”
However, an Israeli government official said that senior Israeli officials had recommended that the request be approved. It was on Wednesday.