Quartet worried about coronavirus impact on Gaza

Qatar to send $2.7 million to Hamas for impoverished Palestinians.

A Palestinian woman, wearing a mask as a preventive measure against coronavirus, looks out of a car upon her return from abroad, at Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman, wearing a mask as a preventive measure against coronavirus, looks out of a car upon her return from abroad, at Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Quartet representatives discussed their concerns about the outbreak of the coronavirus in Gaza, which is one of the more densely populated areas the world.
Representatives from the European Union, the United States, the United Nations and Russia held a telephone call during which they received briefing on the UN’s global $2 billion COVID-19 Response Plan launched this week.
There was a “focus on Gaza” during the conversation, “where we are very concerned,” a UN explained. The “risks remain substantial," the UN said in a statement to reporters on Saturday about the conversation.
Among those on Thursday’s call were UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov and US President Donald Trump's special assistant Avi Berkowitz.
Mladenov on Saturday also held a video conversation about the coronavirus crisis in Gaza with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, according to the Hamas website. 
There have been only nine confirmed cases in Gaza, but the fear is that the Hamas-controlled coastal region does not have enough resources to contain an outbreak and care for those who will be stricken. Ventilators in particular are in short supply.
Gaza has a high poverty rate and a health system that was already in crisis, a situation that has been exacerbated in past years by Israeli border restrictions and Palestinian Authority sanctions against Hamas. Gaza also lacks adequate electricity and water.
Hamas is expected this week to distribute Qatari funds to 120,000 Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip, a senior Hamas official announced on Saturday. Each family will receive $100.
Ghazi Hamad, deputy minister of the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Social Development, said the latest Qatari grant has already arrived in the Gaza Strip. He did not say how the money was transferred to the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.
In the past, Qatari delivered millions of dollars in cash to the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing with Israel. 
Hamad said his ministry was currently working to determine the mechanisms for distributing the funds through the post offices in a way that would preserve the safety of the beneficiaries in light of the outbreak of coronavirus.
During the Quartet call on Thursday Mladenov spoke of UN efforts to helped Gaza and lauded the “excellent coordination and cooperation that has been established with all Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors,” the UN said on Saturday.
In a statement to the press the UN lauded Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, which it had said had been “a major factor in the containment achieved so far.”
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis Israel has facilitated the entry of “critical supplies and equipment into Gaza”  including protective equipment for health workers, swabs for the collection of samples and other laboratory supplies for COVID-19 testing, the UN said. 
Israel has also allowed for the movement and access of  “personnel involved in the COVID-19 response to and from both the West Bank and Gaza," the UN added.
Health officials in the Gaza Strip said on Saturday evening that no new cases of coronavirus have been detected there in the past 24 hours.
The officials said that Tawik Na’im, commander of Hamas’s Internal Security Force, has tested negative for the virus. Na’im was placed in quarantine last week after coming in contact with two Palestinians who returned to the Gaza Strip from Pakistan and were diagnosed with the disease.
 Another seven Hamas security officers have tested positive for the virus after coming in contact with Palestinians returning to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
 More than 1,700 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been placed in quarantine in the past few weeks as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Hamas has appealed to international human rights organizations for help in purchasing ventilators and other medical equipment.
The UN’s COVID-19 response plan has allocated $34 million Gaza and the West Bank. There are some 88 West Bank Palestinians diagnosed with Carona, according to the WHO.
The response plan would allow for 20,000 tests and provide an additional 200 hospital beds for regular care and 100 for intensive care with respiratory support. 
It would allow for Corona related messages to be sent to one million Palestinians.
As a result of the Corona virus, Palestinian groups in Gaza canceled mass rallies called for March 30 to mark the second anniversary of the so-called "Great March of Return" which had prompted weekly protests by Palestinians along the Gaza-Israel border.
"We call upon our people not to go to the Return encampments on March 30 and to stay home in order to maintain the safety of our people in the face of this lethal pandemic," said Khaled al-Batsh, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad militant group.
Instead, Batsh called upon Gazans to mark the day by raising Palestinian flags on their rooftops and burning Israeli ones.
Separately the Quartet representatives in their Thursday telephone call spoke about ways to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian talks. 
“They discussed at length what can be done to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” the UN source said, adding that “all remain committed to two states, despite their differences on how to get there.”
Mladenov tweeted on Thursday, ”Today I spoke with my #US, #Russia, #EU colleagues of the #MiddleEast Quartet. We discussed how to revive meaningful #peace negotiations towards the goal of two states," UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov tweeted. "I briefed them on #UN efforts to support excellent #Israeli #Palestinian cooperation against #COVID2019."
Quartet members, save for the US, favor a two-state resolution at the pre-1967 lines. The Trump administration this year put forward a plan which dismisses the pre-1967 lines and instead allows for Israel to retain most of east Jerusalem and 30% of the West Bank, including all of the Jordan Valley. It sets out a blueprint for the creation of a de-militarized Palestinian state within four years. The Palestinians have rejected the plan.
Omri Nahmias and Reuters contributed to this report.