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Under pressure from rights groups, Israel to vaccinate Palestinian prisoners against COVID-19

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A volunteer receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem al-Quds, on November 1, 2020.

The Israeli regime says it will begin vaccinating Palestinian prisoners against the COVID-19 as pressure mounts on Tel Aviv from human rights groups.

On Sunday, the Israel Prison Service said in a statement that it would commence vaccinating all incarcerated people against COVID-19, including Palestinians.

It added that “following the vaccination of staff... the vaccination of detainees will begin in prisons in accordance with the medical and operational protocol established by the Prison Service.”

Israel has so far given at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to more than two million of its people, but it came under fire when its public security minister, Amir Ohana, recently announced that Palestinian inmates would be the last ones across the occupied territories to receive such vaccines.

Ohana’s remarks drew waves of condemnation from Israeli and global rights groups, including Amnesty International, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). They strongly called on Tel Aviv to swiftly vaccinate the estimated 4,400 Palestinians held behind bars in Israeli jails.

Furthermore, Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had written to Ohana lambasting his comments as “tainted with illegality.”

Figures by the Palestinian Prisoner's Club (PPS) show that some 250 Palestinians in Israeli prisons have so far tested positive for COVID-19.

Separately on Sunday, Human Rights Watch (HRW), for its part, called on Tel Aviv to provide vaccinations for the 2.8 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the two million Palestinians in the densely-populated besieged Gaza Strip.

In a statement, the HRW's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir particularly slammed the practice of giving shots to illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank, but not their Palestinian neighbors.

“Nothing can justify today's reality in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they're Jewish or Palestinian,” he said, stressing that everyone in the same territory should be given the COVID-19 vaccine, “regardless of their ethnicity.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which runs the occupied West Bank, says it has signed contracts with four vaccine providers, including the developer of Russia's Sputnik V.

The PA expects that by mid-March it will be able to supply 70 percent of the Palestinian population, in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with the COVID-19 vaccines.

On December 19, Israel began its coronavirus inoculation drive, which included illegal settlers in the West Bank. So far over a million people have received the shot.

In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured and annexed East Jerusalem al-Quds, in a move that has never won international recognition, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In 2005, Israel was forced by the Palestinian resistance in Gaza to withdraw its forces and illegal settlers from the enclave. The regime still maintains a tight blockade on the strip.

The crippling land, air and sea blockade on Gaza has dramatically affected the Palestinians' health and their standard of living there.

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