Rival of Palestinian president delivers vaccines to Gaza


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A shipment of coronavirus vaccines arranged by a rival of President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, giving a lift to the blockaded territory’s vaccination efforts and embarrassing the Palestinian leader ahead of national elections.

The 20,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V, donated by the United Arab Emirates and organized by Abbas rival Mohammed Dahlan, entered the Palestinian enclave through its border with Egypt. A container truck with a huge banner of Emirati leaders and a thank-you message passed through Rafah crossing point in the southern Gaza Strip.

The delivery came days after the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, chaired by Abbas, managed to deliver only 2,000 doses of the same vaccine type to Gaza via Israel, which had delayed the shipment for a few days. Sunday’s delivery appeared to be aimed in part at making Abbas’ government appear ineffective.

Dahlan, a former senior member of Abbas’ Fatah party, has been living in exile in Abu Dhabi since a falling out with the Palestinian leader in 2011.

Gaza has been ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas since 2007, when it seized control of the territory from Abbas’ forces.

Together, the vaccines are enough for 11,000 people, a tiny fraction of Gaza’s 2 million people. The Hamas-run Health Ministry said the vaccination drive will begin Monday with frontline medical workers and “honorary dignitaries.”

It estimated that Gaza needs 2.6 million doses to inoculate people 16 and older.

Dahlan, a former security chief from Abbas’ Fatah party, was forced to flee Gaza during the 2007 Hamas takeover. But in recent years, he has mended ties with the group thanks to their shared animosity toward Abbas.

The Palestinians plan to hold what would be their first parliamentary elections in 15 years in May. The vaccine deliveries are likely to improve the standing of Dahlan and his Fatah splinter group, called the Democratic Reform Bloc, in the vote.

Abbas has blocked Dahlan from running in the polls, but his group members are planning to compete, positioning them as a possible kingmaker in the election between Hamas and Fatah.

Gaza’s health authorities have reported more than 54,000 coronavirus infections and 543 deaths.

Israel has faced international criticism for largely excluding Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza from its highly successful vaccination campaign.

Rights groups say it has an obligation as an occupying power to share its vaccines with the Palestinians. Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state.

Israel denies having such an obligation and says its priority are its own citizens, as well as Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. It says the Palestinian Authority is responsible for health care in the territories it administers according to interim peace agreements.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but has maintained a blockade with Egypt over the territory in an effort it says is meant to prevent Hamas from arming.

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