Palestinian president’s rival – Mohammed Dahlan – promises vaccines for Gaza

A 2006 file photo shows PA President Mahmoud Abbas with then Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan (AFP)

Fares Akram

AP  /  February 18, 2021

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The United Arab Emirates is sending 20,000 doses of the Russian coronavirus vaccine to the Gaza Strip, a rival to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Thursday, in a decision that could have repercussions for upcoming elections.

The announcement by Mohammed Dahlan came a day after Abbas’ government managed to deliver 2,000 vaccines to Gaza and appeared to be aimed in part at embarrassing the Palestinian president.

Dahlan called the shipment a “generous grant” from the UAE “at a sensitive time where the pandemic is targeting all our beloved.” An aide to Dahlan said the Sputnik V vaccines will be delivered to Gaza through Egypt on Sunday.

Dahlan, a former senior member of Abbas’ Fatah party, has lived in exile in Abu Dhabi since falling out with the Palestinian president in 2011. Dahlan was subsequently sentenced in absentia to three years in prison over alleged embezzlement.

May’s parliamentary elections are to pit Fatah against Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group. Abbas has blocked Dahlan from running in the election, which would be the first Palestinian vote in 15 years. But Dahlan’s allies, running as a Fatah splinter group called the Democratic Reform Bloc, are planning on contesting the race and could emerge as kingmakers.

Dahlan was once a bitter foe of Hamas when he served as the Palestinian security chief in Gaza. But after the militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007 and forced him to flee the territory, the sides later found common ground in their animosity toward Abbas.

Hamas has allowed Dahlan’s supporters to run humanitarian and relief projects in Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade, and limited political activity. The expected delivery of vaccines could further boost Dahlan’s standing in the territory as Abbas continues to struggle to procure vaccines for his people.

Gaza’s Health Ministry has reported more than 53,000 cases and at least 538 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and authorities have been reluctant to impose widespread lockdowns because the territory is already mired in poverty. With Emirati money, Dahlan’s group has delivered tons of medical aid, including an oxygen generator, to support Gaza’s weak health care system dealing with COVID-19 patients.

Israel has faced international criticism for largely excluding Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza from its highly successful vaccination campaign. It’s also a potent example of global inequality in the rollout of vaccines, most of which have been scooped up by wealthy countries.

Rights groups say it has an obligation as an occupying power to share its vaccines with the Palestinians. Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state.

Israel denies having such an obligation and says its priority are its own citizens, as well as Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. It says the Palestinian Authority is responsible for health care in the territories it administers according to interim peace agreements.