JERUSALEM — The Palestinian Authority on Saturday announced a new set of lockdown restrictions in the West Bank as coronavirus infections surge and Palestinians await the rollout of a significant vaccination program.
The move comes as Israel has secured ample supplies of the vaccine for itself and raced ahead with its own inoculation program, outpacing the rest of the world. The imbalance has added a new layer of friction to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict and drawn scrutiny of Israel’s obligations in the occupied territories.
The lockdown restrictions, set to last for 12 days, include the closure of universities, nighttime curbs on travel and nonessential commerce, and a ban on gatherings for weddings, parties and funerals.
The Palestinian minister of health, Mai al-Kaila, said on Saturday that 910 new cases and five deaths had been recorded in the West Bank in the previous 24 hours. Another Palestinian, she added, had died in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after contracting Covid-19.
Three more Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Ms. al-Kaila said, had died of the disease in recent days.
About 91 percent of Palestinians infected by the disease since last March have recovered, Ms. al-Kaila said. Over all, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, there have been about 206,440 confirmed cases among Palestinians over the past year, including about 24,500 in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
Israel’s vaccination program extends to all residents of East Jerusalem, but many Palestinians there have been reluctant to take the vaccine, in part, residents said, because of low trust in Israeli authorities and a flood of unsubstantiated, negative rumors about the vaccine circulating on social media.
Israeli officials say the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, assumed responsibility for health services in its areas of control when the interim peace agreements known as the Oslo Accords were signed in the mid-1990s.
Israel has vaccinated more than half its population of 9.2 million with a first dose, and more than a third with a second dose, but has so far provided the Palestinian Authority with only 2,000 vaccine doses and promised 3,000 more. More than 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, with an additional two million in Gaza.
Israeli officials have said it is in their interest to help the Palestinians once Israeli citizens, including hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank, have been fully vaccinated. They have indicated that they may begin vaccinating tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers who routinely come to work inside Israel and that they may transfer more vaccine to the Palestinian Authority, but no details have been made available.
Human rights advocates have argued that Israel should be vaccinating the Palestinian population in parallel with its own citizens. They cite the Fourth Geneva Convention, under which occupying powers are obligated to ensure the public health of people living under occupation as far as possible. An annex of the Oslo Accords also calls for cooperation to combat epidemics.
The dispute has been aggravated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent foray into vaccine diplomacy, with pledges to send thousands of spare doses to allies from Hungary to Guatemala. That effort has been put on hold as Israel’s attorney general examines whether the decision-making went through proper channels.
So far, the Palestinians have received 10,000 doses from Russia of its Sputnik V vaccine, 2,000 of which were transferred from the West Bank to Gaza. Last weekend, another shipment of 20,000 Russian doses donated by the United Arab Emirates entered Gaza across the Egyptian border.
Palestinian officials expect to receive 37,440 Pfizer doses and hundreds of thousands of AstraZeneca doses through the global-sharing initiative Covax sometime in March. Additional supplies of AstraZeneca vaccine are expected as well.
Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority said Saturday that global competition was mostly to blame for delays in a significant vaccination rollout, but that a batch of vaccines were expected to arrive next week, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
Israel is still battling high infection rates, despite its successful vaccine rollout, and has imposed a nighttime ban on travel since Thursday in an effort to prevent parties over the Purim holiday.