Health officials in the Gaza Strip are sounding the alarm after two cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in the besieged territory. The densely populated strip announced its first confirmed cases of COVID-19 March 22.
“We are more concerned now than we have been by the Israeli military attacks over the past 20 years,” Dr. Abdullatif al-Haj, an official in Gaza’s Ministry of Health, told Al-Monitor. “Our already fragile health system cannot survive,” said Haj.
According to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, two Palestinian men who had recently returned from Pakistan and entered Gaza through Egypt have contracted the virus. Both are in stable condition and under quarantine in the town of Rafah near the Egyptian border, officials said.
Hamas, which rules Gaza, has introduced a series of new restrictions including the closure of schools and restaurants, a ban on large gatherings and the suspension of Friday prayers in mosques. Hospitals, schools and hotels have been designated quarantine centers and are currently housing some 1,200 travelers who have recently returned from abroad
According to The Jerusalem Post, Hamas is calling for “Palestinian unity at the national level” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The newspaper reports Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem urged Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to lift economic sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip in 2017. In a statement, Hamas said it “invited Palestinian factions and the Ministry of Health to contribute to the fight against COVID-19.”