Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Israel closed off Palestinian-administered areas of the occupied West Bank on Wednesday to limit the spread of the coronavirus, officials from both sides said.
“From today, a closure has taken place in the West Bank,” said Yotam Shefer, who heads the international department of COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories.
He told journalists the decision had been taken in conjunction with the Palestinian government, based in Ramallah.
The border crossing with the Gaza Strip has been closed in recent days and will remain so, Shefer added.
Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Melhim said all Palestinians would be affected, though goods would still be allowed to pass.
He said Palestinian police would establish checkpoints on the outskirts of cities.
“All this is in full coordination with the Israeli side,” he told AFP.
“There is a joint operation room for coordination on the corona issue at the highest level.”
So far, 427 Israelis and 44 Palestinians have been infected with the virus, but no deaths have yet been registered.
All but a handful of the Palestinian cases have been in the Bethlehem governorate south of Jerusalem and Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced new measures Wednesday, imposing an even tighter lockdown on the city where Christians believe Jesus was born and nearby towns.
– Work in settlements –
Israel occupied the West Bank in the Six-Day War of 1967 and exercises full control over access to the territory, which Palestinians regard as a vital part of their future state.
The Palestinian government has limited autonomy in the territory’s main Palestinian population centres, apart from Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Around 70,000 Palestinians in the West Bank work in Israel, crossing back and forth each day.
On Tuesday, they were given three days to either stay in Israel for the coming months or remain in the West Bank.
Thousands crossed into Israel on Wednesday morning, many carrying large rucksacks, an AFP photographer at the border reported.
Palestinians suffering from serious illnesses would still be allowed to enter Israel for treatment, Shefer said.
Foreigners living in Israel would no longer be able to cross into the West Bank, he added.
Around 400,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank, communities considered illegal under international law.
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Thousands of Palestinians are employed in them and Shefer said they would still be allowed to enter and leave daily.
But Melhim said he wanted such work to stop to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“We warned and asked workers not to go to settlements because they have become virus centres,” he said.
Israel has imposed tough restrictions to restrict the spread of the virus.
People have been ordered to stay at home unless going to buy food or medicine, seeking medical attention or travelling to workplaces where no more than 10 people are present.
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