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Hamas calls on PA to lift Gaza sanctions to prevent spread of coronavirus

March 24, 2020 at 1:20 pm

Citizens in Gaza start wearing masks and gloves, after declaring coronavirus cases on 22 March 2020 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

The Hamas government has urged the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to lift economic sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip in 2017.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Hamas said in a statement it “invited Palestinian factions and the Ministry of Health to contribute to the fight against COVID-19.”

This comes after the Palestinian Ministry of Health confirmed its first two cases in the enclave, in returnees who had travelled to Pakistan and are currently being treated at a field hospital in Rafah.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem, who called on Abbas to lift the sanctions in order to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission, said on Monday that “confronting the challenge of the spread of the coronavirus requires Palestinian unity at the national level.”

The Gaza Strip has already seen public markets, schools, and event halls closed over the past two weeks to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus, reports Reuters.

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Authorities in Gaza have also decided to shut down the enclave’s restaurants, cafes and reception halls. Friday prayers at mosques have also been suspended until further notice.

The PA, Qassem added, “should end the policy of punishing the Gaza Strip, particularly during these times when our people need to strengthen our internal front.”

In April 2017, Abbas slashed the salaries of thousands of government workers in Gaza by 30 per cent, increasing hardship in the impoverished coastal enclave that suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment among its population of about two million Palestinians.

Due to economic hardship caused by such internal rivalries and years of blockades and conflict that have brought Gaza near to breaking point, the World Health Organisation has warned its healthcare system would not be able to deal with an outbreak of the deadly disease.

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