Palestinian jailed in Gaza for breaking coronavirus quarantine

Palestinian policemen loyal to Hamas stand gaurd in a street amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the southern Gaza Strip April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

GAZA (Reuters) - A Gaza court has sentenced a Palestinian man to six months in jail for escaping from a coronavirus quarantine facility on the Egyptian border, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.

The 33-year-old was arrested on Saturday, a few hours after breaking out of the compound at Rafah, where people crossing from Egypt into Hamas Islamist-controlled Gaza are confined for a mandatory 21-day period.

He had been in the facility for less than a week and tested negative for the novel coronavirus after being apprehended, the ministry said.

In addition to the prison term handed down on Tuesday by a Hamas-run military court, the man was fined $700. It was the first time a jail term has been imposed in Gaza for violating restrictions aimed at stemming coronavirus infection.

The ministry gave no details on how the man escaped from the 500-room compound of single-storey concrete buildings surrounded by a wall and guarded by police.

In its statement, the ministry said the man would also face drug-selling charges relating to membership in a narcotics gang.

Health officials said 17 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip. The densely populated enclave is home to two million people.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Nick Tattersall