Friday prayer in the al-Shuhadaa mosque in Khan Yunis (Facebook page of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 29, 2020).
Distributing cold drinks and masks to students (pal10 website Twitter account, May 30, 2020).
Disinfecting schools and exam rooms (Gazan ministry of education’s Twitter account, May 28, 2020).
- This past week six new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the Gaza Strip, bringing the total number to 61, of which 42 are active. All the cases entered the Gaza Strip through the Rafah Crossing.
- In ITIC assessment Hamas’s fight against the coronavirus is under control. According to a website based in London, the number of cases and deaths in the Gaza Strip is far larger that what has been reported. So far the information has not been verified.
- A number of restrictions were relaxed, subordinate to heeding guidelines and preventive measures. Among them were opening the mosques for Friday prayers and allowing students to sit for matriculation exams. However, both doctors and local residents have repeatedly warned that preventive measures are not being strictly implemented in public places.
- Local networks in the northern and southern Gaza Strip announced the launching of IED/incendiary balloons into Israeli territory. The announcements were accompanied with threats to Israel to deliver medical equipment to the Gaza Strip, otherwise the results would be serious. In ITIC assessment Hamas made no formal decision to renew balloon launching, but it could happen, for instance in a scenario of an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak inside the Gaza Strip.
The Extent of the Infection
- According to a report from the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip, so far 9,500 tests have been conducted, 9,439 of which were negative (Safa, May 30, 2020). There are still 1,492 people in quarantine centers in the Gaza Strip (Safa, May 30, 2020).
Infographic presenting data on the extent of COVID-19 infection in the Gaza Strip
(Safa Twitter account, May 27, 2020).
- A website called The Levant News, which represents itself as an independent, London-based media institution, published an article claiming that the statistics officially reported by Hamas do not reflect the true situation. Quoting sources inside the Gaza Strip who spoke on condition of anonymity, the article claimed the numbers of infections and deaths from COVID-19 are far greater than what has been reported to date. The sources added that Hamas has hidden the real number to keep the general public from losing faith in its administration. The report claims to be based on doctors who said that senior Hamas figures list COVID-19 cases and deaths as cases of flu or pneumonia, or even a heart attack. According to the doctors, the medical teams in the Gaza Strip are in contact with teams in the West Bank for advice and instructions, in light of the success the Palestinian Authority (PA) has had in fighting the virus (The Levant News, May 25, 2020). So far the ITIC has cannot verify the information. It may be intended to smear Hamas.
Hamas’ Preventive Measures
- On May 22, 2020, the ministry of health announced that the field hospital at the Rafah Crossing had been enlarged to 100 beds for COVID-19 patients who needed hospitalization.
- A Gazan doctor named Abd al-Qader Abu Raya, who was interviewed about fighting COVID-19, noted the disregard and complacency of the local residents. He said the greatest disaster was the complacency in the quarantine centers for Gazans returning from abroad. He noted the lack of attention paid to rules for basic hygiene and the trading with peddlers through windows of the quarantine rooms (NoonPost website, May 26, 2020). Pictures from the Gaza Strip do in fact show crowded streets and beaches without social distancing or masks.
Right: The Gaza City beach, May 29 (pal10 website Facebook page, May 30, 2020). Left: The Khan Yunis beach (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 29, 2020).
- On May 28, 2020, the ministry of health in Gaza held a meeting, chaired by Dr. Yusuf Abu Rish, deputy minister of health, to discuss the functioning of the quarantine centers. He stressed the importance of continuously monitoring the implementation of safety measures in the centers because they were the first and most important link in the preventive measures taken by the ministry of health (website of the ministry of health in Gaza, May 28, 2020).
Easing Restrictions: Opening the Mosques
- The ministry of Muslim endowments in the Gaza Strip announced the opening of the mosques on Friday, May 29, 2020 subordinate to heeding guidelines and taking preventive measures (website of the ministry of Muslim endowments, May 27, 2020). On Friday May 29, 2020, prayers were held in the mosques, opened for the first time in two months.
Friday prayer in the al-Shuhadaa mosque in Khan Yunis
(Facebook page of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 29, 2020).
Friday prayer in the al-Sayid Hashem mosque in Gaza City
(Shehab Facebook page, May 29, 2020).
- Dr. Abd al-Hamid Jamal al-Bayoumi, a member of the safety and COVID-19-fighting team in the central Gaza Strip district and apparently a doctor in the al-Shuhadaa al-Aqsa hospital, posted severe criticism on the hospital’s Facebook page regarding the lack of preventive measures in the mosques (Facebook page of Dr. Al-Bayoumi, May 29, 2020). He said that in the mosque he frequented in the central Gaza Strip strict observation of preventive measures did not rise above 10%; masks were not distributed to worshippers, fewer than 5% wore masks; worshippers did not maintain social distancing; some of them did not bring prayer rugs from home: children were present in the mosque and the water faucets were open (Facebook page of Dr. A-Bayoumi, May 29, 2020). Some Facebook page users replied to the post saying that in their own mosque’s worshippers did not fully follow the guidelines for preventive measures. Dr. Husam Abu Alwan, who works for the French Médecins du Monde (MdM), shared Dr. Al-Bayoumi’s post, and said he had the same criticism (Facebook page of Dr. Husam Abu Alwan, May 29, 2020).
Other Restrictions Eased
- On May 30, 2020, matriculation exams began in the Gaza Strip, and they will continue until June 17. Exams will be taken by a total of 33,616 students. According to Ziyad Thabet, deputy minister of education in Gaza, a medical protocol was prepared in accordance with guidelines from the ministries of health and the interior to protect both students and employees from the coronavirus. The number of exam-takers cannot exceed 15 per room, which will mean the addition of about 50 examination committees and the help of 43 UNRWA schools. He said the exam rooms, corridors and furniture in the schools had been disinfected, and a doctor or nurse and aides would join every committee to provide psychological support (Facebook page of the ministry of health in Gaza, May 30, 2018).
Disinfecting schools and exam rooms
(Gazan ministry of education’s Twitter account, May 28, 2020).
Right: Distributing cold drinks and masks to students (pal10 website Twitter account, May 30, 2020). Left: Gazan students take exams (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 30, 2020).
- The Islamic University in the Gaza Strip announced it would renew administrative activity in the various faculties and departments on May 30 – June 3, 2020 (Facebook page of the Islamic University, May 29, 2020).
- Nizar Ayash, chairman of the fishermen’s union in Gaza, announced fishing off the Gaza Strip coast would begin on the morning of May 26, 2020 (Sawa, May 25, 2020).
- On the other hand, Iyad al-Buzum, spokesman for the ministry of the interior in Gaza, denied any intention to reopen the venue halls. He stressed that the decision keeping them closed was still in force (Watania news agency, May 30, 2020; palsawa, May 30, 2020).
Threats against Israel
- On May 25, 2020, the Palestinians reported a number of launchings of IED and incendiary balloons into Israeli territory, after three months without balloon launches. A cluster of incendiary balloons was reported launched from eastern Khan Yunis and clusters of IED balloons were reported from the northern Gaza Strip (Facebook page of journalist Hassan Aslih, May 25, 2020; Twitter account of Palestine al-Hadath news agency, May 25, 2020). The networks launching the balloons called them a message for Israel (“the Zionist enemy”) to hurry up and deliver medical equipment to the Gaza Strip to fight COVID-19. They threatened that unless Israel delivered the equipment, Israelis living near the Gaza Strip would suffer painfully (Facebook page of Abu Malik, who represents himself as the spokesman for Ahfad al-Ansar, Facebook page of the Sons of al-Zawari in eastern Khan Yunis, May 25, 2020).
- However, a “reliable source” in the Supreme National Authority for the Return Marches and the Struggle Against the Deal of the Century denied that the renewal of IED and incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip was the result of an Authority decision. According to the source, the balloons were launched by groups of local youths to exert pressure on Israel to deliver medical equipment to fight COVID-19. The source added that the groups, which were close to the various organizations and their military wings, were operating on their own without the intervention of the Authority, which had not changed its intentions regarding escalation with Israel or the renewal of the use of “harsh measures” which had not been used for several months. The source also noted that they expected the launchings would stop if Israel met the demands to deliver medical equipment to the Gaza Strip (al-Ayam, May 29, 2020).
 Muhammad Abd al-Qader Abu Raya was represented by the website as being a general surgeon with an MD degree and an MA in public health and epidemiology, and further degrees in children’s health, nutrition and crisis management as well. He worked in governmental and international institutions in the field of public health. He is a member of several health, charity and educational institutions in the Gaza Strip. ↑