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China's closed: Palestinian traders fear losing a good deal

SeattlePI.com Tuesday, 18 February 2020
HEBRON, West Bank (AP) — The West Bank city of Hebron is separated from the epicenter of China's virus outbreak by more than 4,000 miles and a ring of Israeli checkpoints. But even here the economic symptoms of the outbreak are starting to appear.

Palestinian markets have long been flooded by low-cost Chinese goods. Traders in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city and a commercial hub for the territories, fear that if the outbreak and quarantine efforts continue they will have to switch to more expensive alternatives, passing higher prices on to consumers in an already weakened economy.

Their concerns point to the potential for wide-ranging ripple effects from the outbreak in China, the world's largest exporter. The health crisis has already thrown the global travel industry into chaos and threatened to disrupt supply chains around the world that depend on China. That a city deep inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank is so reliant on Chinese goods illustrates the perils of global economic integration.

The illness, recently named COVID-19, first emerged in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Since then, the virus — a new type of coronavirus — has spread to about two dozen countries and infected more than 73,000 people. It has caused more than 1,800 deaths, nearly all in China. No cases have yet been identified in Israel or the Palestinian territories, but merchants have felt the impact and fear the worst is yet to come.

Samer Abu Eisha, a children's clothes wholesaler in Hebron, has been importing from China for more than two decades. He has a permit from Israel that allows him to fly from Ben Gurion International Airport to China's Guangzhou province every two months so he can place orders with factories there and supervise output.

But business ground to a halt last month as the outbreak gathered...

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