Israel allowed the Palestinian Authority to deliver the first coronavirus vaccines to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, despite objections from Israeli lawmakers who suggested they be used as a bargaining chip for the release of captives held by the territory's militant Hamas rulers. Israel has faced international criticism for largely excluding Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza from its highly successful vaccination campaign, per the AP. It held up the shipment for two days as the government faced questioning from a parliamentary committee before ultimately approving it. The dispute highlights the Palestinians' reliance on Israel even as they struggle to combat the pandemic on their own. It's also a potent example of global inequality in the rollout of vaccines, most of which have been scooped up by wealthy countries.
The shipment finally arrived midday Wednesday at the Kerem Shalom crossing. Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said the PA sent 2,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine—enough for 1,000 people in an impoverished territory that's home to 2 million. An Israeli defense official said authorities approved the delivery, adding that it's "not in Israel's interest to have a Gaza health crisis." Gaza's Health Ministry has reported more than 53,000 cases and at least 538 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and authorities have been reluctant to impose widespread lockdowns as the territory is already mired in poverty. The PA said the first doses would go to front-line medical workers. But a rep for the Gaza Health Ministry said they'd be administered in two phases: first to vulnerable patients and then to health care workers. Israel has launched one of the world's most successful vaccination programs, inoculating more than a third of its population of 9.3 million since December. (Read more Israel stories.)