Hamas-affiliated academic advises ceasefire amid coronavirus outbreak

PA health officials: Gazans may try to infiltrate borders with Israel, Egypt if virus arrives

A trail of smoke can be seen as rockets are fired from Gaza towards Israel (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
A trail of smoke can be seen as rockets are fired from Gaza towards Israel
Hamas must seize the opportunity of the outbreak of the coronavirus to show mercy towards Israel and reach a long-term truce with Israel, a Palestinian political analyst and university lecturer in the Gaza Strip said over the weekend.
Dr. Fayez Abu Shmalah’s proposal sparked debate among Palestinians, amid fears that the virus may spread to the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.
Abu Shmalah, who previously served 10 years in an Israeli prison for security-related offenses, is a former mayor of the city of Khan Yunis (pop. 350,000) in the southern Gaza Strip.
No confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in the Gaza Strip so far, according to Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health officials. However, the officials expressed fear that the it was only a matter of time before the coronavirus reaches the Gaza Strip, home to two million Palestinians.
The PA announced on Saturday that three new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Jala, bringing to 38 the number of Palestinians who have been infected with the disease.
On Friday, Israel delivered 200 coronavirus test kits to the Gaza Strip as part of an effort to prevent an outbreak in the Gaza Strip, and curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease in the West Bank.
“The coronavirus, like other viruses, does not recognize geographic borders,” said Col. Sharon Biton, head of Civil Affairs at the Defense Ministry’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
COGAT head Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon said it was a “first-rate Israeli interest to prevent an outbreak of the virus in the Gaza Strip and curb its spread in the Judea and Samaria,” adding that the disease could endanger the health of the citizens of Israel. The Israeli authorities, he said, will continue their efforts to help the PA combat the virus out of an Israeli interest and on humanitarian grounds.
In response to the Israeli gesture, Abu Shmalah, who is known for his affiliation with Hamas, proposed that all the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip issue a statement committing themselves to a truce with Israel during the war on the virus.
In a post on his Facebook page, Abu Shmalah also called on Hamas and other Palestinian groups to stop launching incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. He also called on Israel to fulfill its previous promises to ease restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip.
In another Facebook post, Abu Shmalah urged Hamas and all Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip to show mercy towards Israel as it fights the coronavirus. “As long as our Israeli enemy is ill with the coronavirus, our Arab morals require us to appease them at this stage,” he said. “Let’s be merciful, even with our enemy.”
On Saturday Abu Shmalah urged Hamas to seize the opportunity of the outbreak of the virus to reach a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel. Addressing Hamas, he said: “Talk to the Egyptians and others about this matter.” Abu Shmala pointed out that Israel was already considering releasing some prisoners because of the virus. “That should encourage Hamas to negotiate about a prisoner swap as soon as possible,” he added.
Hamas did not immediately respond to Abu Shmalah’s offer. Several Palestinians, however, appeared to be divided over his proposals.
“Unfortunately, I disagree with you,” said Facebook user Abu Hammam al-Sussi. “The Jews kill children and women and there should be no leniency in dealing with them.”
Another Facebook user, Mustafa al-Astal, also rejected the offer. “How can that be, while [Israel] is killing, besieging our people and attacking them with rockets and missiles?” he asked.
Nahed Zaqout and other Facebook users said they supported the ideas of the Palestinian political analyst. They noted that Hamas had already agreed to a ceasefire with Israel that was reached under the auspices of Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations. Some Palestinians praised Abu Shmalah for his “humanitarian initiative” towards Israel.
The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry announced on Friday that 2,667 Palestinians are in home isolation as a precautionary measure to prevent the outbreak of the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip.
The ministry said that tests conducted on 19 Palestinians who returned to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the past week were negative.
Egypt has 80 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Two people have died there, the Egyptian Health Ministry reported.
In Gaza, the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry said that its central laboratory was fully equipped with medical professionals and equipment to test samples of suspected coronavirus cases.
Palestinian health officials, meanwhile, expressed concern that if and when cases of coronavirus are detected in the Gaza Strip, local hospitals would not be able to cope with a large number of infected patients. “The Gaza Strip is a densely populated area, where the virus could spread very quickly,” one official said. “That could result in a real and unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”
Some health officials waned over the weekend that if the virus reaches the Gaza Strip, thousands of Palestinians may try to force their way into Israel or Egypt.
“I don’t rule out such a scenario,” said an official with the Gaza-based Health Ministry. “The health system in the Gaza Strip does not have the tools and staff to deal with dozens of infected cases. We have 11 major hospitals and dozens of clinics, but they won’t be able to receive a large number of patients.”