The UN organisation for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) has launched an appeal for $14 million in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The aid is intended to cover the immediate requirements for health and other services related to the pandemic in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
“Overcrowded living conditions, physical and mental stress and years of protracted conflict all make vulnerable population of over 5.6 million Palestine refugees particularly susceptible to the ongoing threats of COVID-19,” said UNRWA Acting Commissioner-General Christian Saunders.
For the time being, all UNRWA schools and other educational institutions are temporarily closed. UNRWA’s 144 health clinics remain fully operational and continue to provide essential primary health services to contain and address the spread of the ongoing pandemic.
“COVID-19 has illustrated that no population is exempt and for a densely populated area like Gaza, already weakened by years of blockade, this could be disastrous,” added the Commissioner-General. “Gaza simply does not have the resources and means to weather such a story. Any contribution is gratefully received, every penny will make a difference.”
A source in the Commission told The Brussels Times that EU, as a regular donor to the UNRWA and the second biggest donor overall, is currently preparing a new allocation for UNRWA which is expected to be announced shortly.
While cases of infections have been confirmed in the West Bank, Gaza has until now been spared the virus because of its isolation and the blockade by Israel and Egypt against the rule of Hamas.
“No cases from Gaza yet, and we truly hope there won’t be any, although given what the situation is like worldwide, we are trying to avoid the worst in a place like Gaza,” commented a spokesperson for UNRWA.
“Gaza is densely populated and hence it’s difficult to implement social distancing there. We are pleading for financial support to be able to avoid an outbreak or respond to one if it happens.”
In Israel, President Reuven Rivlin spoke with Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, about the coronavirus crisis and its effects on the region.
“The world is dealing with a crisis that does not distinguish between people or where they live,” the president said. “The cooperation between us is vital to ensure the health of both Israelis and Palestinians. Our ability to work together in times of crisis is also testament to our ability to work together in the future for the good of us all.”
Update: Israeli journalist Amos Harel (Haaretz 20.3) writes that Israel and the Palestinian Authority understand that they are looking at the abyss together and are acting accordingly. The coronavirus crisis has also imposed an informal ceasefire in Gaza. It is in Israel’s supreme interest that the virus will not hit Gaza. Despite the lack of test kits in Israel, a small number of them has been sent to Gaza.