The Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip is making significant efforts to prevent a  full-scale outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), while also threatening to hold Israel “responsible” if the virus does begin to spread. The threats imply rocket fire on Israeli cities if Hamas officials begins losing control of the situation.

According to a report released on Tuesday by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Gazan medical authorities have so far reported two infected patients who returned from Pakistan and who are now in isolation. They are said to be in good condition.

Hamas appears to have the situation currently under control, but that could change quickly due to Gaza’s poor living conditions and health-care system, cautioned Dr. Col. (ret.) Reuven Erlich, director of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.

“The density of the population, the difficult conditions, the refugee camps, the sanitation—it means there is a danger of the virus spreading. The Hamas regime could lose control,” he told JNS. “Hamas is aware of this and making major efforts, though it has not gone as far as the Palestinian Authority and imposed a full closure. That might be what Hamas ends up doing.”

Gaza’s hospitals are stretched in normal times and experience shortages of beds, medical equipment and doctors, meaning that any new virus outbreak would be highly problematic and would lead Hamas to quickly demand assistance from Israel.

The way that Hamas usually demands such help is by threatening to fire rockets at Israeli cities. Expressions by Hamas representatives saying that they would view Israel as being responsible in the event of an outbreak are already sending this message to Jerusalem, noted Erlich.

A Gazan Health Ministry spokesperson said that Israel would be responsible for any deterioration in Gaza’s medical situation, while Hamas deputy chairman, Khalil Al-Haya, echoed that pronouncement.

“Such statements could end up in rocket fire to pressure Israel. If Hamas reaches the scenario of facing sick people who are dying and a shortage of beds, they will demand assistance. This is the set formula for doing so,” said Erlich.

The Israel Defense Forces is continuing its routine security operations on all borders, including Gaza, and is continuing its combat training for field units as usual. Maintaining readiness has been defined by senior IDF command a top objective throughout the pandemic.

Last Wednesday, Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration for the Gaza Strip coordinated the passage of hundreds of kits for detecting the coronavirus into the Gaza Strip, as well as equipment for medical protection.

The coordination was performed on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO), which had asked the head of the unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, to coordinate the entry of the detection kits and protective equipment for the sake of the Gaza Strip’s health system.

‘Common work with the Palestinian medical teams’

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, unlike Hamas in Gaza, has no clearly defined border with Israel, said Erlich, adding that Palestinians can more easily bring the virus “into Israel from Judea and Samaria, and back the other way.”

Hamas has taken a series of steps to prevent the spread, including closing all border crossings, disinfecting public institutions, sending 400 prisoners home on vacation and building hundreds of isolation structures.

Its military wing, under orders by Hamas leader Yahya al-Sinwar, has launched an ambitious program to rapidly construct 1,000 quarantine units in Rafah in the southern Gaza, as well as to the north. The project is advancing rapidly.

Hamas is also cooperating with Egyptian authorities to battle the virus, the Meir Amit Center report said.

Hamas medical officials have placed several people who came into contact with the infected patients into isolation, including the commander of the national security forces and his deputy. Both are continuing to work from their isolation center, said a Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman.

Hamas officials have also warned the public against stockpiling food and have arrested three people for spreading false rumors about the virus.

In the West Bank, the P.A. has imposed a closure after 57 people tested positive for COVID-19..

On Tuesday, Israel’s Civil Administration, a civil-military body under the Defense Ministry, held a professional coronavirus training session for West Bank Palestinian medical teams at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan.

Professor Elhanan Bar-On, director of the Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response at Sheba Medical Center, said “the coronavirus does not recognize geographic boundaries, and, therefore, we are all in the same boat with a common goal—defeating the virus. At Sheba, we believe that the public health is of paramount importance, and, therefore, I welcome the opportunity that is afforded to me to give of the knowledge and experience that we have accumulated during the last month, and I commend the fruitful discussion and common work with the Palestinian medical teams.”

Dalia Basa, the Civil Administration’s Health Coordinator, said, “During the last few weeks, the Unit for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories has been working hard to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, to protect the health and welfare of the public in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Our unit will continue to work in full cooperation with the Israeli Health Ministry and the Sheba Medical Center in conjunction with the Palestinian authorities with the purpose of eliminating the spread of the coronavirus.”

© 2020 American Jewish Congress.