Rocket Exchange With Gaza Signals Israel Won't Hesitate to Act Despite Coronavirus Crisis

Hamas for its part has deployed its forces along the Gaza Strip border and has raised its level of preparedness in the area

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, February 24, 2020.
AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

The Israel Defense Forces fired on Hamas military positions in the northern Gaza Strip after a rocket was fired into Israel just after 9 P.M. Friday.

The Israeli strikes were meant to send the message that Israel would not hesitate to act despite the coronavirus crisis and would not tolerate any attempt to drag the region into a military conflict.

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Even before the incident was over, Hamas conveyed a message to Israel that it was not behind the rocket attack, and the Israeli defense establishment believes that this is the case. The government and the army are in agreement that everything must be done to avoid escalation in the south, which would put Israel in an impossible situation given the coronavirus crisis.

Hamas for its part has deployed its forces along the Gaza Strip border and has raised its level of preparedness in the area near the fence to prevent attacks by splinter groups on Israeli troops or other provocations.

Hamas is reportedly trying to prepare as best it can for the possibility of a larger outbreak of the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip than it says has occurred so far.

Israel and Hamas both understand that in the event of a major outbreak of the virus there will be no way to deal with its ramifications. At present there are 3,000 doctors in Gaza, including 700 medical residents. There are 4,000 nurses, 450 pharmacists and 5,000 medical technicians in the Strip.

There are just over 200 public health clinics in Gaza, only a quarter of which are government-run, and 56 of which are aided by humanitarian organizations that are struggling to keep their teams in the Gaza Strip and to continue funding the clinics. The United Nations refugee agency operates 21 clinics, which see a total of 4 million patients a year and are responsible for most of the vaccinations in the Strip.

UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshasha announced that due to the coronavirus and the anticipated funding shortfall, the organization is dismissing local employees who work for the organizati on on a day-by-day basis and will be announcing further steps necessitated by economic difficulties.

There are 80 private clinics in Gaza but the cost of treatment in these facilities is prohibitive for the many Gazans who are poor.

According to World Health Organization figures published after the coronavirus outbreak, Gaza has only 50 percent of the medications it needs. There are currently 85 respirators in the Strip, 20 of which are for children. In any case, these respirators are of a type cannot be used by coronavirus patients because patients using them exhale into the room, which increases the likelihood of infection of other patients and staff. Respirators used in Israel and the West work differently – patients exhale into a closed system that filters the breath before it is released into the room.

According to Hamas, only nine coronavirus patients have been identified in Gaza. Israel and international health organizations believe that the number is greater, but that it has not yet reached epidemic proportions. Sources in Israel say Hamas is acting properly and responsibly to contain the virus but there are objective difficulties given the poor state of healthcare in Gaza.

So far, some 500 people have been tested for the coronavirus. There are currently 1,719 people in the isolation facility near the Raah border. There are 24 isolation facilities, of which six are hotels, that can take in coronavirus patients and people required to be in insolation. No decision has been made in Gaza regarding home isolation, and so there are no restrictions on people leaving their homes, although large gatherings have been banned. Hamas announced today that the period of isolation was to be increased to three weeks from two weeks.

Economic conditions in Gaza even before the outbreak were poor; now they are on the verge of collapse. Before the outbreak, unemployment in Gaza stood at 45 percent. Since then, more than 6,000 people in the hotel and restaurant industries have lost their jobs, and businesses along the beach are not operating at all.

As part of Israel’s efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Gaza, with the understanding that such a spread was a risk to Israelis as well, Israel’s District Coordination and Liaison administration sent 1,000 testing kits to Gaza on Thursday through the Erez crossing, along with hundreds of sets of protective gear, donated by the World Health Organization.

The head of the administration’s operations for the Gaza Strip, Col. Iyad Sarhan, said: “The enlistment of the World Health Organization, like other international organizations, is a significant part of healthcare in the Gaza Strip. The DCL will continue to assist the international organizations to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip.”