Gaza War Deepens a Long-Running Humanitarian Crisis

GAZA CITY — The nine-day battle between Hamas militants and the Israeli military has damaged 17 hospitals and clinics in Gaza, wrecked its only coronavirus test laboratory, sent fetid wastewater into its streets and broke water pipes serving at least 800,000 people, setting off a humanitarian crisis that is touching nearly every civilian in the crowded enclave of about two million people.

Sewage systems inside Gaza have been destroyed. A desalination plant that helped provide fresh water to 250,000 people in the territory is offline. Dozens of schools have been damaged or closed, forcing some 600,000 students to miss classes. Some 72,000 Gazans have been forced to flee their homes. And at least 213 Palestinians have been killed, including dozens of children.

The level of destruction and loss of life in Gaza has underlined the humanitarian challenge in the enclave, already suffering under the weight of an indefinite blockade by Israel and Egypt even before the latest conflict.

demonstrations began peacefully but led to clashes in some places in the West Bank Outside Ramallah, a group of Palestinians who had gathered separately from the protesters set fires on a major thoroughfare and later exchanged gunfire with Israeli soldiers, officials said. Three Palestinians were killed.

Rocket fire from Palestinian militants has also harmed Israeli infrastructure, damaging a gas pipeline and pausing operations at a gas rig and at two major Israeli airports.

But the damage was incomparable to that in Gaza.

Until Monday evening, Al Rimal health clinic in central Gaza City housed Gaza’s only coronavirus test laboratory. Doctors and nurses there administered hundreds of vaccinations, prescriptions and screenings a day to more than 3,000 patients.

But on Monday night an Israeli airstrike hit the street outside, sending shrapnel into the clinic, shattering windows, shredding doors, furniture and computers, caking rooms in debris and wrecking the virus lab.

adherence to the international laws of war, which bar the targeting of purely civilian sites and limit acceptable collateral damage to that which is proportionate to any military advantage.

according to a report last year by the United Nations, have left Gaza with “the world’s highest unemployment rate” and more than half of its population living below the poverty line.

By Monday, Israeli bombs had destroyed 132 residential buildings and rendered 316 housing units uninhabitable, according to Gaza’s Housing Ministry.

One airstrike essentially destroyed the Hala al Shawa clinic in northern Gaza which also provides primary health-care services and vaccinations, while another damaged four ambulances nearby, the Health Ministry said.

The blast from a third airstrike broke windows in operating rooms, forcing the clinic to transfer surgery patients to other hospitals, said Abdelsalam Sabah, the ministry’s hospitals director. A separate airstrike caused some structural damage to the nearby Indonesian hospital, he added. A piece of shrapnel flew into the emergency room at the Gaza Eye Hospital, nearly wounding a nurse, he said.

The strike on Al Rimal clinic in Gaza City also damaged the administrative offices of the Hamas-run Health Ministry, said Dr. Majdi Dhair, director of the ministry’s preventive medicine department.

One ministry employee was hospitalized and in serious condition after shrapnel struck him in the head, Dr. Dhair said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“This attack was barbaric,” he said. “There’s no way to justify it.”

Reporting was contributed by Patrick Kingsley and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem; Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel; and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Tzur Hadassah.

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In Washington, Hundreds Take Part in Pro-Palestinian Protests

WASHINGTON — Hours after Israel launched an airstrike on a Gaza media tower, hundreds of protesters marched Saturday afternoon from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol in protest of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people and what they said was an inadequate response from the United States.

“People think they can be neutral about this. That’s absolutely wrong,” said Alexandra-Ola Chaic, 17, who traveled to the rally from Burke, Va., with her family, which is of Palestinian descent. “We have to do what we can to make this an issue that receives political support.”

The protest was one of several planned around the country for Nakba Day, which Palestinians observe every May 15 to commemorate the 1948 displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians amid Israel’s war of independence. The Washington protest was organized by local chapters of the Palestinian Youth Movement and American Muslims for Palestine, but news of the march spread largely through social media and word of mouth, including during Friday prayers at local mosques.

The crowd that gathered was diverse in age and background, and included many families with young children.

Ruth Soto, 25, from Northern Virginia, came with her sister to show solidarity with Palestinians. She said the displacement of Palestinians felt personal to her because her family fled war in Central America to come to the United States illegally.

“We’ve seen the struggle, being displaced from your home,” she said. “This is a way we can help them.”

Zeina Hutchinson, who was born in Palestine, came from Ashburn, Va., to protest with her husband and two sons, aged 12 and 13. She said it was important to her that her sons remembered their Palestinian roots and continued to fight for their people’s independence. Ms. Hutchinson echoed the desire of many protesters that the government end aid to Israel and sanction the country over the current conflict.

“I’m here to demand from Congress, from every elected representative, to condition aid to Israel and to sanction Israel. Because what’s happening right now is unconscionable,” she said.

Omar Hudhud, a senior at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., came with his sister, Salma, and mother, Inam, who is Palestinian and was born and raised in Jerusalem.

“To see a lot of people from different ethnicities, diversities,” he said, “it just brought a sense that we’re all in this together.”

Inam Hudhud said she felt helpless watching footage of the rocket attacks on Palestinian communities. “It hurts my heart,” she said. “At least I can come here and protest. It’s the best thing I can do.”

Protests also rose in other parts of the world on Saturday:

  • Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters, many of them waving Palestinian flags or wearing traditional kaffiyeh scarves, gathered in downtown Auckland, New Zealand, as well as at smaller rallies throughout the country. The march was scheduled weeks in advance for Nakba Day. Protesters called on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand to condemn Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and expel Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand.

Natasha Frost contributed reporting.

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What Is Happening in Israel and Gaza? Here’s What to Know.

JERUSALEM — Twenty-seven days before the first rocket was fired from Gaza this week, a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed the Palestinian attendants aside and strode across its vast limestone courtyard. Then they cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful from four medieval minarets.

It was the night of April 13, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was also Memorial Day in Israel, which honors those who died fighting for the country. The Israeli president was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site that lies below the mosque, and Israeli officials were concerned that the prayers would drown it out.

The incident was confirmed by six mosque officials, three of whom witnessed it; the Israeli police declined to comment. In the outside world, it barely registered.

But in hindsight, the police raid on the mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was one of several actions that led, less than a month later, to the sudden resumption of war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, and the outbreak of civil unrest between Arabs and Jews across Israel itself.

recognized the city as Israel’s capital and nominally moved the United States Embassy there. There were no mass protests after four Arab countries normalized relations with Israel, abandoning a long-held consensus that they would never do so until the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had been resolved.

Two months ago, few in the Israeli military establishment were expecting anything like this.

In private briefings, military officials said the biggest threat to Israel was 1,000 miles away in Iran, or across the northern border in Lebanon.

When diplomats met in March with the two generals who oversee administrative aspects of Israeli military affairs in Gaza and the West Bank, they found the pair relaxed about the possibility of significant violence and celebrating an extended period of relative quiet, according to a senior foreign diplomat who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely.

Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. With a final court decision on their case due in the first half of May, regular protests were held throughout April — demonstrations that accelerated after Palestinians drew a connection between the events at Damascus Gate and the plight of the residents.

video and images showed they engaged in violence themselves. As the images began to circulate online, the neighborhood turned into a rallying point for Palestinians not just across the occupied territories and Israel, but among the diaspora.

The experience of the families, who had already been displaced from what became Israel in 1948, was something “every single Palestinian in the diaspora can relate to,” said Jehan Bseiso, a Palestinian poet living in Lebanon.

And it highlighted a piece of legal discrimination: Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim land in East Jerusalem that was owned by Jews before 1948. But the descendants of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled their homes that year have no legal means to reclaim their families’ land.

sight of stun grenades and bullets inside the prayer hall of one of the holiest sites in Islam — on the last Friday of Ramadan, one of its holiest nights — was seen as a grievous insult to all Muslims.

scenes that were broadcast across the world.

At the last minute, the government rerouted the Jerusalem Day march away from the Muslim Quarter, after receiving an intelligence briefing about the risk of escalation if it went ahead.

But that was too little, and far too late. By then, the Israeli Army had already begun to order civilians away from the Gaza perimeter.

Shortly after 6 p.m. on Monday, the rocket fire from Gaza began.

Rami Nazzal contributed reporting from Ramallah, West Bank, and Iyad Abuhweila from Gaza City.

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Israel Strikes Gaza Building With A.P. and Other News Outlets

The worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians in seven years intensified on Saturday, as an Israeli airstrike destroyed a prominent high-rise building in Gaza City that housed media outlets including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera.

The Israel Defense Forces said its fighter jets struck the media tower because it also contained military assets belonging to Hamas. The I.D.F. said it had provided advance warning to civilians in the building to allow evacuation.

The attack followed an Israeli airstrike overnight that killed at least 10 members of an extended family in a refugee camp in Gaza, after which Hamas militants aimed another round of rockets at Tel Aviv.

The attacks occurred after a senior American envoy, Hady Amr, arrived in Jerusalem to help broker a cease-fire. Mr. Amr, the United States deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, was scheduled to meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

American, Egyptian and Qatari attempted to negotiate a pause in fighting.

Aqsa Mosque.

including a 5-year-old boy, and one soldier dead.

Power in Gaza was down to five hours a day in some places, and water came out of the pipes only once every few days. Any efforts to contain what had been a worsening coronavirus infection crisis all but ceased.

In Israel, the always-fraught notion of coexistence between Arabs and Jews seemed to be cracking amid the burning apartments and synagogues, the thrown stones and homemade bombs.

The crisis has pushed concerns about Israel’s political gridlock off the table and could benefit the shaky career of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while also giving momentum to Hamas.

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Israeli-Palestinian Strife Widens as Frantic Calls for Calm Go Unheeded

CAIRO — Violence between Israelis and Palestinians expanded in new directions on Friday, with deadly clashes convulsing the occupied West Bank and anti-Israeli protests erupting along Israel’s borders with two Arab neighbors.

The widening sense of mayhem in Israel and the Palestinian territories came as Israeli airstrikes brought mass evacuations and funerals to Gaza, and as Hamas rockets singed Israeli towns for a fifth consecutive day.

Hamas and Israeli officials signaled they were open to discussing a cease-fire amid global calls for peace and frantic diplomacy aimed at heading off a further fracturing in one of the Middle East’s most intractable struggles.

But the violence, which has metastasized with startling velocity compared with previous Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, was finding new footholds and threatening the veneer of Israeli society in ways not seen before.

Power was down to five hours a day in some places, and water came out of the pipes only once every few days. Efforts to contain what had been a worsening coronavirus infection crisis in Gaza all but collapsed.

ground forces had attacked Gaza, later clarifying that the troops were firing from within Israel, and that none had entered the territory.

a 5-year-old boy killed by shrapnel on Wednesday despite having sheltered in a safe room.

On Thursday, his family was mourning at his funeral when the scream of sirens warned that, once again, Hamas rockets were on the way.

Reporting was contributed by Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City; Patrick Kingsley, Irit Pazner Garshowitz, Myra Noveck and Jonathan Rosen from Jerusalem; Rami Nazzal from Ramallah, West Bank; Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel; Adam Rasgon from Los Angeles; Rana F. Sweis from Amman, Jordan; and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon.

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Israeli Ground Forces Attack Gaza, Escalating Conflict

Israeli ground forces carried out attacks in the Gaza Strip early Friday in a dramatic escalation of a conflict with Palestinian militants that had been waged by airstrikes from Israel and rockets from Gaza.

It was not immediately clear if the Israeli advance was a limited incursion against Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, or the start of a full-fledged invasion akin to the one in 2014 that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians.

An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, confirmed that “there are ground troops attacking in Gaza, together with air forces as well,” but provided no further details.

What appeared to be the first stages of a ground campaign in Gaza left Israel in an unprecedented position — fighting Palestinian militants on its southern flank as it sought to head off its worst civil unrest in decades.

The ground attack followed another day of clashes between Arab and Jewish mobs on the streets of Israeli cities, with the authorities calling up the army reserves and sending reinforcements of armed border police to the central city of Lod to try to head off what Israeli leaders have warned could become a civil war.

Taken together, the two theaters of turmoil pointed to a step change in the grinding, decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. While violent escalations often follow a predictable trajectory, this latest bout, the worst in seven years, is rapidly evolving into a new kind of war — faster, more destructive and capable of spinning in unpredictable new directions.

In Gaza, an impoverished coastal strip that was the crucible of a devastating seven-week war in 2014, Palestinian militants fired surprisingly large barrages of enhanced-range rockets — some 1,800 in three days — that reached far into Israel.

Israel intensified its campaign of relentless airstrikes against Hamas targets there on Thursday, pulverizing buildings, offices and homes in strikes that have killed 103 people including 27 children, according to the Gaza health authorities.

Six civilians and a soldier have been killed by Hamas rockets inside Israel.

Egyptian mediators arrived in Israel Thursday in a sooner-than-usual push to halt the spiraling conflict.

Most alarming for Israel, though, was the violent ferment on its own sidewalks and streets, where days of rioting by Jewish vigilantes and Arab mobs showed no sign of abating.

The unrest in several mixed-ethnicity cities, where angry young men stoned cars, set fire to mosques and synagogues, and attacked each other, signaled a collapse of law and order inside Israel on a scale not seen since the start of the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, 21 years ago.

The violence follows a month of boiling tensions in Jerusalem, where the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from their homes coincided with a spate of Arab attacks against Israeli Jews, and a march through the city by right-wing extremists chanting “Death to Arabs.”

The jarring violence this week caused Israeli leaders, led by President Reuven Rivlin, to evoke the specter of civil war — a once unthinkable idea. “We need to solve our problems without causing a civil war that can be a danger to our existence,” Mr. Rivlin said. “The silent majority is not saying a thing, because it is utterly stunned.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Lod, a working-class city with a mixed Arab-Israeli population that has emerged as the center of the upheaval. Hulks of burned-out cars littered streets.

On Thursday, a Jewish man was stabbed as he walked to a synagogue there, but survived.

“There is no greater threat now than these riots,” said Mr. Netanyahu, who vowed to deploy the Israel Defense Forces to keep the peace in Lod. A day earlier, he described the violence as “anarchy” and said: “Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs, and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews.”

To secure Lod, the government brought in thousands of armed border police from the occupied West Bank, and imposed an 8 p.m. curfew, but to little effect.

Arab residents, who account for about 30 percent of the town’s 80,000 people, continued a campaign of stone-throwing, vandalism and arson, while Jewish extremists arrived from outside Lod, burning Arab cars and property. Arab protesters erected flaming roadblocks.

As night fell there were signs that the violence might escalate when a large convoy of armed Jews in white vans moved into town.

Palestinian leaders, however, said the talk of civil war by Jewish leaders was a distraction from what they called the true cause of the unrest in Lod — police brutality against Palestinian protesters and provocative actions by right-wing Israeli settler groups.

“The police shot an Arab demonstrator in Lod,” said Ahmad Tibi, the leader of the Ta’al party and a member of Israel’s Parliament. “We don’t want bloodshed. We want to protest.”

Mr. Tibi said that Mr. Netanyahu, who has frequently aligned with far-right and nationalist parties to stay in power, had only himself to blame for the political tinderbox that has exploded with such ferocity across Israel.

The trouble started on Monday, when a heavy-handed police raid at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque — the third-holiest site in Islam, located atop a site also revered by Jews — set off an instant backlash.

But beyond the images of police officers flinging stun grenades and firing rubber bullets inside the mosque, Palestinian outrage was also fueled by much wider, decades-old frustrations.

Human Rights Watch recently accused Israel of perpetrating a form of apartheid, the racist legal system that once governed South Africa, citing a number of laws and regulations that it said systematically discriminate against Palestinians. Israel vehemently rejected that charge. But its security forces are now confronted with a swelling wave of fury from the country’s Arab Israeli minority, which complains of being treated as second-class citizens.

“‘Coexistence’ means that both sides exist,” said Tamer Nafar, a famous rapper from Lod. “But so far there is only one side — the Jewish side.”

The rocket attacks from Gaza are also quantitatively and qualitatively different from the last war in 2014. The more than 1,800 rockets Hamas and its allies have fired at Israel since Monday already represent a third of the total fired during the seven-week war in 2014.

Israeli intelligence has estimated that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian militant groups have about 30,000 rockets and mortar projectiles stashed in Gaza, indicating that despite the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the coastal territory, the militants have managed to amass a vast arsenal.

The rockets have also demonstrated a longer range than those fired in previous conflicts, reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

They have also proven more effective. In the 2014 war, they killed a total of six civilians inside Israel, the same number killed in the last three days.

Those casualties appeared to be product of Hamas’s new tactic of firing more than 100 missiles simultaneously, thwarting the American-financed Iron Dome missile-defense system, which Israeli officials say is 90 percent effective at intercepting rockets before they land inside Israel.

Gaza residents have no such protection against Israeli airstrikes, which crushed three multistory buildings in the strip after residents were warned to evacuate. Israeli officials said that the buildings housed Hamas operations and that they were striving to limit civilian casualties, but many Gaza residents viewed the Israeli attacks as a form of collective punishment.

Thursday was supposed to be a day of celebration for Palestinians as they marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a day when Muslims typically gather to pray, wear new clothes and share a family meal. In Jerusalem, tens of thousands of worshipers gathered at dawn outside the Aqsa Mosque, some waving Palestinian flags and a banner showing an image of Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas.

In Gaza, though, it was a somber day of funerals, fear and missile strikes. Some families buried their dead, others laid out prayer mats beside buildings recently destroyed in Israeli airstrikes, and still others came under attack from Israeli drones hovering overhead.

“Save me,” pleaded Maysoun al-Hatu, 58, after she was wounded in a missile strike outside her daughter’s house in Gaza, according to a witness. An ambulance arrived moments later, but it was too late. Ms. al-Hatu was dead.

American and Egyptian diplomats were heading to Israel to begin de-escalation talks. Egyptians mediators played a key role in ending the 2014 war in Gaza, but this time there is little optimism they can achieve a quick result.

Israeli military officials have said their mission is to stop the rockets from Gaza, and the military moved tanks and troops into place along the border with Gaza on Thursday in preparation for the ground invasion.

The decision to extend the campaign is ultimately political. Analysts said that a ground operation would likely incur high casualties.

But the political calculation grew more complicated on Thursday after the collapse of negotiations between opposition parties seeking to form a new government.

Naftali Bennett, an ultranationalist former settler leader who opposes Palestinian statehood, pulled out of the talks, citing the state of emergency in several Israeli cities.

His withdrawal increases the likelihood of Israel holding a general election later this summer — in what would be its fifth in just over two years. And the collapse of the talks appears to benefit Mr. Netanyahu, making it impossible for opposition parties to form an alliance large enough to oust him from office.

Mr. Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, is serving as caretaker prime minister until a new government can be formed.

On the Palestinian side, the indefinite postponement last month of elections by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, created a vacuum that Hamas is more than willing to fill.

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Lod, Israel; Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City; Patrick Kingsley, Irit Pazner Garshowitz and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem; Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel; Mona el-Naggar and Vivian Yee from Cairo; Megan Specia from London; and Steven Erlanger from Brussels.

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‘Why Do We Deserve to Die?’ Kabul’s Hazaras Bury Their Daughters.

KABUL, Afghanistan — One by one they brought the girls up the steep hill, shrouded bodies covered in a ceremonial prayer cloth, the pallbearers staring into the distance. Shouted prayers for the dead broke the silence.

The bodies kept coming and the gravediggers stayed busy, straining in the hot sun. The ceaseless rhythm was grim proof of the preceding day’s news: Saturday afternoon’s triple bombing at a local school had been an absolute massacre, targeting girls. There was barely room atop the steeply pitched hill for all the new graves.

The scale of the killing and the innocence of the victims seemed further unnerving proof of the country’s violent unraveling, as the Taliban make daily gains and the government seems unable to halt their advances or protect its people from mass killings. On Sunday there were mourners everywhere in the neighborhood of the bombing, home to the persecuted Shiite Hazara ethnic minority, but hardly any security to protect them.

The death toll exceeded even previous massacres in this bustling neighborhood of a minority long singled out for persecution by the Taliban and, in recent years, the Islamic State. Afghanistan’s second vice president, Sarwar Danesh, himself a Hazara, said more than 80 people had been killed in the attack.

attack on a wrestling club that killed 20, the school attack that August in which 34 students were killed, and the 2017 mosque bombing in which 39 died. Not to mention the massacres of Hazara in the civil war-torn Kabul of the early 1990s by the forces of warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and his ally, Ahmad Shah Massoud, now revered — not by Hazaras — as a national hero.

The absence of government security forces Sunday, even though funerals are often targeted by the extremists, prompted some to say that the community could rely only on itself.

“If we want to protect ourselves, men and women should pick up guns,” said Ghulam, the day laborer.

The attack “compels Hazaras to pick up guns and defend themselves,” said Arif Rahmani, a Hazara member of Parliament. “Whether the government likes it not, people will stand up and provide themselves with their own security,” he said. “Hazaras will have to make their own decisions,” he said. “There will be gunmen on every corner and street of their neighborhoods.”

Outside the school Sunday a crowd surrounded an elderly man shouting, “God, please help us!” A man listening said: “The only option is to take up guns. We just buried an 11-year-old girl. What is her crime?”

The man, Qasim Hassani, a vendor, continued: “If the government doesn’t stop these terrorists from coming into our neighborhoods, we will do it. Today I am just a vendor. But if they keep pushing, I will be the next Alipur.”

President Ashraf Ghani proclaimed Tuesday a national day of mourning for the victims.

The blast was so powerful it shattered the windows of stores a considerable distance down the street.

“It’s terrifying,” said Naugiz Almadi, a mother clutching her young daughter outside the school. “Hazaras have nothing to protect them. Only God.”

Fatima Faizi contributed reporting.

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Phuket Was Poised for Tourism Comeback. A Covid Surge Dashed Those Hopes.

PHUKET, Thailand — Around the corner from the teeth-whitening clinic and the tattoo parlor with offerings in Russian, Hebrew and Chinese, near the outdoor eatery with indifferent fried rice meant to fuel sunburned tourists or tired go-go dancers, the Hooters sign has lost its H.

The sign, in that unmistakable orange cartoon font, now simply reads, “ooters.”

Like so much at Patong Beach, the sleazy epicenter of sybaritic Thailand, Hooters is “temporarily closed.” Other establishments around the beach, on Phuket Island, are more firmly shuttered, their metal grills and padlocks rusted or their contents ripped out, down to the fixtures, leaving only the carcasses of a tourism industry ravaged by the coronavirus epidemic.

The sun, which usually draws 15 million people to Phuket each year, stays unforgiving in a downturn. The rays bleach “For Rent” signs on secluded villas and scorch greens on untended golf courses. They lay bare the emptiness of Patong streets where tuk-tuk drivers once prowled, doubling as touts for snorkeling trips or peep shows or Thai massages.

kept the virus at bay, although the economy suffered. But even as the last couple of weeks have brought repeated daily caseload highs, the Thai government is reacting slowly.

In early April, as cases began to mount, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha reacted with a verbal shrug.

voted to recommend lifting a pause on the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine and adding a label about an exceedingly uncommon but potentially dangerous blood clotting disorder.

  • Federal health officials are expected to formally recommend that states lift the pause.
  • Administration of the vaccine ground to a halt recently after reports emerged of a rare blood clotting disorder in six women who had received the vaccine.
  • The overall risk of developing the disorder is extremely low. Women between 30 and 39 appear to be at greatest risk, with 11.8 cases per million doses given. There have been seven cases per million doses among women between 18 and 49.
  • Nearly eight million doses of the vaccine have now been administered. Among men and women who are 50 or over, there has been less than one case per million doses.
  • Johnson & Johnson had also decided to delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe amid similar concerns, but it later decided to resume its campaign after the European Union’s drug regulator said a warning label should be added. South Africa, devastated by a more contagious virus variant that emerged there, also suspended use of the vaccine but later moved forward with it.
  • On April 18, Thailand’s tourism minister acknowledged that a July 1 opening for Phuket looked unlikely given that the plan depended on Covid being squelched in Thailand.

    To prepare for Phuket Sandbox, the Thai government funneled many of its limited number of vaccines to the island, in hopes of achieving herd immunity by the summer. As of mid-April, more than 20 percent of Phuket’s residents had been vaccinated. Nationwide, only about 1 percent of the population has received the needed doses.

    “I am very relieved,” said Suttirak Chaisawat, a grocery store worker who received his Sinovac vaccine this month at a resort repurposed for mass inoculations. “We all need some hope for Phuket.”

    While the vaccinations may have given Mr. Suttirak some optimism, the present picture remains grim.

    Normally at this time of year, Patong Beach’s golden sands would be heaving with foreign holidaymakers.

    But the beach is now almost deserted, save for a clutch of residents lining up for Covid tests at a mobile medical unit. Up the road, a monitor lizard, a creature more crocodile than newt, lumbered across the tarmac, with little traffic to impede its crossing.

    Phuket’s half-built condominium complexes are being reclaimed by nature, always a battle in the tropics but a lost cause when developer money dries up. Billboards for “Exclusive Dream Holiday Home” are stained by mildew and monsoon mud.

    The Thai New Year period this month was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for Phuket’s revival. Rather than foreign backpackers or business conference attendees, hotels tried to lure high-end Thai tourists who, were it not for the pandemic, might have decamped overseas for skiing in Hokkaido, Japan, or shopping in Paris.

    But instead of prepping the island for its return as a global tourist haven, the Thai New Year may have wrecked the island’s chances for a July reopening.

    At festivals in Patong and at other beaches this month, thousands of affluent Thais partied, fewer masks in evidence than bikini tops. For some in Thailand’s high society, Covid was seen as something that might infect vegetable sellers or shrimp peelers, not the jet set.

    But then these beach revelers started testing positive, the virus spreading from luxe Bangkok nightclubs to Phuket.

    The virus’s resurgence after so many months of economic hardship is shattering for the majority of Phuket’s residents, who depend on foreign tourists for their livelihoods.

    As a 3-year-old elephant munched on sugar cane nearby, Jaturaphit Jandarot swung slowly in his hammock. There was little else to do.

    Before the pandemic, he and the other elephant handlers on the outskirts of Patong used to lead more than 100 tourists a day, mostly from China, on 30-minute rides. Now there are no visitors.

    “I was super excited to hear they are going to open Phuket for foreign tourists,” Mr. Jaturaphit said. “Thai people don’t ride elephants.”

    Whatever the state of international travel, the elephants still need to be fed. Each month, a dozen beasts consume at least $2,000 worth of sugar cane, pineapples and bananas. The 3-year-old, little more than a toddler in elephant years, eats as much as the adults.

    After Phuket’s tin and rubber industries declined, tourism grew from a few bungalows on Patong Beach in the 1970s to a global phenomenon, attracting golfers, clubbers, yachters, sex tourists and Scandinavian snow birds.

    Much of Phuket’s high-end accommodation is clustered near the beach town of Bang Tao, a placid Muslim-majority community where placards for upscale wine bars mix with Arabic signs for Islamic schools.

    Phuket’s largest mosque is in Bang Tao, and this year the first day of Ramadan coincided with the beginning of the Thai New Year festivities, an auspicious augur after a year of economic hardship. The night before fasting was to begin, worshipers streamed to the mosque. Women chopped shrimp, banana flowers and armfuls of herbs for the feasting to come.

    But at the last minute, the Phuket authorities called off mass prayers for fear of the virus’s spread. Iftar, the breaking of the fast, is taking place in homes, not at the mosque.

    As the local authorities traced Covid-19 cases on the island to the upscale beach parties, residents of Bang Tao grew frustrated.

    “We want to welcome people to Phuket, of course, but when they don’t protect themselves and they bring Covid here, I’m a little bit angry,” said Huda Panan, a primary schoolteacher who lives behind the mosque.

    Ms. Huda’s husband is a taxi driver, but he hasn’t worked for more than a year. Most of the mosque’s community depended on tourism, working as concierges, cleaners, landscapers and water-sports guides. Now, some locals sell dried fish and scavenge the hills for a fruit used to add pucker to a local curry — whatever they can do to survive.

    On occasion, Buddhist temples, churches and mosques in Phuket distribute meals to the hungry. Lines are long. The food runs out.

    “We can wait a little longer for Phuket to get better,” Ms. Huda said in the heat of the day as the daily fast grew long. “But not much more.”

    Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting from Bangkok.

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