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Coronavirus is an adjunct to Gaza, but has no travel restrictions

JERUSALEM – Hardly enough space to get around the famous Omar al-Mukhtar street in Gaza City on the eve of the Muslim Eid al-Adha celebration when crowds of Palestinians – barely worn masks – crammed in colorful clothing stores and gathered around makeshift food stalls.

Saber Siam, 28, a salesman at a clothing store that sells items imported from China and Turkey, said: “If the virus is here, we wouldn’t be so close. “You wouldn’t see me hugging my hands or kissing clients on the cheeks to encourage them to buy our clothes.”

Blocked Gaza Strip may be one of the only places in the world where coronavirus transmission has not been recorded in the community ̵

1; an achievement attributed to coastal isolation as well as rapid measures. performed by the Hamas rulers.

However, the pandemic has not affected Gaza yet.

Citing the need to fight the virus, the various government agencies that control Gaza’s borders have imposed new restrictions on movement outside of the territory. That has exacerbated an already challenging situation for Palestinians, who say they urgently need Israel and the West Bank, as well as those who want to escape the bleak economic reality by emigrating. by road to Egypt.

In March, fearing the possible dire consequences of an outbreak in Gaza, the Hamas government ordered all tourists returning to the territory by way of Israel and Egypt to enter the quarantined facility for three weeks. They cannot leave the quarantine until they pass two virus tests.

The system appears to have succeeded, adding to the tension in Gaza’s healthcare industry, already ravaged by years of war and conflict. Health officials discovered all 78 known infections in the territory at quarantine facilities.

However, experts do not rule out the possibility of a pandemic infiltrating the region’s densely populated cities and towns.

“All it takes is a small mistake,” said Gerald Rockenschaub, head of the World Health Organization mission in Palestine. “There’s no guarantee that a virus won’t get inside.”

Mr Rockenschaub also warned that Gaza lacked the resources to deal with a large-scale outbreak, noting that medical facilities carried only about 100 adult ventilators, most of which were already in use.

Hamas initially introduced other restrictions in Gaza. But then, it lifted many of them, allowing residents to stick to important parts of their daily routine. They have flocked to the beaches, exercising at gyms, eating at restaurants, praying at mosques and shopping in markets, among other activities.

“We are very happy that we are not facing the death we have heard in other countries,” said Moath Abed, 29, an unemployed nurse who lives in Gaza City.

The Israeli authorities have allowed Palestinians in need of emergency medical and lifesaving treatment to cross the Erez Road – the only pedestrian passageway between Israel and Gaza.

But they tightened travel restrictions on others in the territory, creating problems for people like Munir Sabitan, 53, a resident of Gaza City who works as a kitchen installer.

Mr. Sabitan once visited his wife and three children, who are Arab citizens of Israel, with a business license. However, in March, Israel froze those permits as the virus began to spread among its communities.

Now Sabitan is concerned that he will miss his daughter’s wedding in the Negev desert if Israel doesn’t permit him to cross soon.

“The wedding has been delayed twice, but it won’t repeat again,” he said, noting that the new day was August 17th. “I feel exhausted from the experience. My daughter calls every day and I tell her I’m still waiting for permission. ”

Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that closely monitors Gaza, has complained on behalf of Mr. Sabitan to the Israeli government, saying that they are applying “double standards” to him because they have allowed family members. Other Israelis flew into the country to join. in weddings, bars and funerals.

“Israel is effectively tightening the closure of Gaza under the guise of pandemic,” the group said.

Authorities continued to refuse Sabitan’s membership, pointing to the pandemic as well as the May decision by the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank’s Palestinian regulator, to stop coordinating with Israel to protest against the Israel’s threat to annex parts of the West Bank. .

Among the issues that the government will not coordinate is the Gaza Palestinian travel permit, making it harder to get them.

The Government Operations Coordinator in the Territories, part of the Israeli Defense Department responsible for licensing Palestinians, declined to comment on specific cases. But they said they worked “around the clock” to “give the best response and best fit” to Gaza’s needs.

It said: “We note that the narrowing of the Erez crossroads movement to special humanitarian and medical cases is just to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” it said.

There are tens of thousands of active cases in both Israel and Egypt, while there are more than 6,000 Palestinians in the West Bank.

Iyad al-Bozom, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry run by Hamas, said that since the pandemic occurred, authorities in Gaza have allowed Palestinians to have valid Israeli permits and “the need for urgent travel. grant “leaving the area via Erez. He said that if Mr. Sabitan got the permit, he would be able to leave the territory.

For the same reason, Neveen Zanon, 41, a resident of Rafah, also cannot be allowed to visit her father in Nablus, where he is suffering from esophageal cancer.

“He barely had enough energy to talk on the phone,” she said. “I’m worried that he won’t be with us by the time I get my permission to meet him.”

She said that when her mother fell ill in 2011, she was unable to get her permit until her funeral took place.

Mrs. Zanon, who lives in a cramped two-room apartment with her husband and six children, said: “I don’t want to go through such a painful experience again.

In March, Egypt and Hamas blocked Rafah traffic between Egypt and Gaza for people trying to leave Gaza. Mr al-Bozom of the Interior Ministry said Hamas was concerned that quarantine facilities could become overwhelmed if too many Palestinians left Gaza via Rafah and then returned shortly thereafter.

The new restrictions, however, complicate the plans of many young Palestinians in hopes of escaping poor living conditions in Gaza, where youth are more than 60% unemployed and poverty is rampant.

Nidal Kuhail, 26, had the intention to quit his job at a restaurant in Gaza City, where he earned $ 13.22 a day and moved to Europe to study or work. Now his plan is stalled.

“There is no future or horizon here,” said Kuhail, who is studying German at a cultural institute in Gaza. “Jobs are few and a lot of people are desperate. I feel like I have no choice but to immigrate ”.

In Gaza, 32% of Palestinians say they want to emigrate because of the economic, political and social situation, according to a June poll by the Center for Palestinian Survey and Policy Studies.

Egypt opened Rafah in May 2018 after years of keeping it close and thousands, and probably tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have moved abroad.

Mr. Kuhail, who has only left Gaza once in his life, said he still hopes to find his way to Europe.

“I’ll do it eventually,” he said. “I know when I do, I will be in a place where I have the opportunity to build a decent life.”

Adam Rasgon reports from Jerusalem and Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City.

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