UN: COVID-19 efforts hampered amid Israeli-Palestinian breakdown

The sharp deterioration in coordination between Israeli and Palestinian officials as Israel threatens to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank has hurt efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the United Nations has said.

The warning on Tuesday came hours after Israeli forces demolished a structure used as a quarantine centre for people suspected of having the virus in the West Bank city of Hebron, sparking outrage among Palestinians.

“Regrettably, the situation on the ground is rapidly being affected by the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel,” Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special envoy for Middle East peace, told the UN Security Council.

“I am also concerned that we are far below the level of coordination that existed in the beginning of the year, when the first wave of the virus hit. This situation could have serious repercussions on the ability to control its spread and its impact on people’s lives,” he added.

UN officials have repeatedly warned Israel to abandon “illegal” plans to annex large swaths of the West Bank, including parts of the strategic Jordan Valley, in line with United States President Donald Trump’s “Middle East plan”. The Palestinian leadership has rejected the controversial proposal and said it was no longer bound by past agreements with Israel and the US.

Amid the “unprecedented circumstances”, Mladenov, the UN envoy, said the agency has offered to bolster its role as an intermediary between the parties to help the coronavirus response and assist in the referrals of patients from the besieged Gaza Strip.

Palestinian health officials on Tuesday confirmed two deaths and 400 reported coronavirus cases in the West Bank over the past 24 hours, including 119 infections in Hebron. The caseload in the West Bank and Gaza Strip now stands at 10,923, including 67 deaths.

In Israel, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections is 54,663, with the death toll at 430.

Meanwhile, in Hebron, local residents said Israeli authorities claimed the lack of a building permit for razing the single-storey quarantine facility.

“The centre was being prepared over the past three months,” Raed Meswada, the landlord, told Anadolu news agency. “The Israeli occupation looks like it is seeking to spread the virus in the city.”

Meswada said the demolition was “proof that the Israeli occupation does not care about the virus outbreak, which does not differentiate between Palestinians and Israelis”.

Separately on Tuesday, Israeli bulldozers brought down a home in the city of Salfit, claiming it lacked a permit.

And on Wednesday, Israeli forces raided two cultural institutions in occupied East Jerusalem, according to local residents.

Police and intelligence agents stormed the Yabous Cultural Centre and the National Conservatory institute in the city and confiscated several files and documents, residents said. The reason for the raids remained unclear.

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967. Israel tries to justify the demolition of Palestinian homes by saying they lack building permits, despite the fact that Israel systematically denies such permits to Palestinians.

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