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West Bank poverty may double over pandemic as annexation looms

West Bank poverty may double over pandemic as annexation looms

AFP
Ramallah
Poverty in the occupied West Bank may double as Palestinians are hit by the coronavirus, the World Bank warned Monday, just weeks before Israel aims to kick-start plans to annex parts of the territory.
The United Nations has warned that such a move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would stifle financial and aid flows to the Palestinians and “most likely trigger conflict”.
Israel may start the annexation process as soon as July 1 with the support of US President Donald Trump, who in January published a peace plan that was roundly rejected by the Palestinians.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki on Monday said that annexation was “tantamount to an act of aggression”.
“This is really a declaration of war,” against Palestinian aspirations, he said.
And in an apparent reference to potential Palestinian unrest, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz told the army “to expedite military preparedness ahead of political steps on the agenda in the Palestinian arena”, said a statement from his office.
In recent weeks some Israeli commentators have cast doubt on whether the annexation would actually go ahead, saying that the military had so far not been told to prepare contingency plans.
The Palestinian territories have seen low infection rates after acting quickly to curtail the spread of COVID-19, with three deaths out of 450 cases registered among some five million residents in Gaza and the West Bank.
But the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) financial situation is “expected to become increasingly difficult” due to loss of income and increased spending on healthcare and other areas, the World Bank said in a report.
The fallout is expected to see the number of households living below the poverty line rise this year from 14 to 30 percent in the West Bank, largely due to Palestinians being unable to cross into Israel for work.
The PA last week announced an end to the lockdown it had imposed in early March across the West Bank after a virus outbreak in the biblical city of Bethlehem, a major tourist site.
The easing allowed more than 63,000 Palestinians to pass through checkpoints for work on Sunday, according to the Israeli military branch handling civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories.

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