On March 21, Palestinian health officials in Gaza announced the first cases of COVID-19 in two individuals who had attended a conference in Pakistan. The crisis led Hamas, the Islamist party that rules Gaza, to shift its primary focus from tensions with Israel to survival of its people. On March 22, it redeployed its armed wing, the al Quds Brigade to sanitize the streets to avert an outbreak in one of the world’s most densely populated areas. It also banned all public gatherings and Friday prayers.Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called for a “complete end to the Israeli siege” on the Gaza Strip to allow international assistance, including medical equipment. He appealed to Qatar and Turkey to provide humanitarian assistance during the epidemic. On April 2, Haniyeh said that Hamas was willing to make “partial concessions” on prisoner exchanges for a humanitarian release of “elderly prisoners and patients” held by Israel. But on May 5, Hamas said “no significant progress” had been made in prisoner swap talks.
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By the end of April, a Mideast news portal had reported that Palestinian medical personnel from Gaza were receiving training in Israel on how to deal with the virus. According to the Al-Monitor report,
Apr 26, 2020 Gaza City, Gaza Strip — Palestinian medical personnel from Gaza reportedly received training in Israel to deal with the novel coronavirus, raising questions among Palestinians about whether the training came through coordination between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah or perhaps a humanitarian group. On April 11, Israeli state-owned TV channel Kan reported that Israeli teams have trained doctors, nurses and other medical workers in Gaza on treating COVID-19 patients. The report said a team from Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, held a training course several hours long for about 20 medical workers from Gaza at the Erez crossing.According to the report, another group of doctors and nurses was later allowed to leave the Gaza Strip for training at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon in southern Israel. Fathi Abu Warda, an adviser to the Ramallah Health Ministry, told Al-Monitor the ministry coordinated a meeting for 10 doctors from Gaza and 10 from Jericho with Israeli doctors to address COVID-19 and the medical measures needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He said that the training took place March 23 on the Israeli side of the Erez crossing, noting, “The doctors were chosen according to their specialties, which included preventive medicine, epidemiology and intensive care.”
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The Al-Monitor report went on to cite a Palestinian Authority health official who “found it odd” that at least one group of doctors and nurses from the Hamas-run Gaza government had later received training inside Israel without coordination with the Health Ministry in Ramallah. The same official added that test samples for the virus from Gaza were being sent to Israel and not Ramallah and that a laboratory was to be established in Gaza with donations from Chinese and Israeli companies.
Needless to say, these developments were controversial for some. The Al-Monitor reported cited an explanation by a political analyst said to be close to Hamas:
“It seems that since Gazan doctors are under blockade and cannot travel to receive training and attend conferences on how to face this pandemic, they had to train with the Israelis.” Madhoun added, “Training falls under the humanitarian and service framework, and it has no political or security dimensions.” He stressed that the training shows Hamas is able to distinguish between political and security matters and Gaza’s urgent “humanitarian needs.
Last week, the GMBDW reported that the previous head of the Hamas Political bureau had called on organizers to resume the flotilla attempting to breach the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza.
Although Hamas has lately claimed that it no longer has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, there are good reasons to be skeptical. If nothing else, the recent moves appear to concern only the Egyptian organization and not the wider Global Muslim Brotherhood which is near universal in its support of Hamas. The Hamas charter says that it is “one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine” and soon after Hamas took over the Gaza strip, Muslim Brotherhood representatives traveled to Gaza from Egypt through the newly-opened border to review Hamas military formations. A Hamas journalist has acknowledged the role that the “international Muslim Brotherhood” has played in providing funds for the purchase of weapons and Hamas is known to be supported financially and politically by the global Muslim Brotherhood. A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman revealed that a coalition of London-based Muslim groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, were behind the mass demonstrations staged to protest Israeli actions in the 2008 Gaza war and the Global Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish affiliates were also intimately involved, along with the Turkish government, in the June 2010 Gaza flotilla that was involved in a violent altercation with Israeli naval forces. Following a period of seeming ascension related to the period of Egyptian rule by the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization was forced to scramble to try and find other state sponsors after Mohamed Morsi was deposed as President. In September 2013, it appeared that Hamas had succeeded in re-establishing close ties with Iran. In January 2013, Israeli intelligence sources claimed that Turkey has replaced Iran as the chief source of Hamas financing.