Gaza: UN suspends aid operation after second Hamas-linked theft of supplies

6 February 2009
John Ging, UNRWA Director for Gaza, visits UN school damaged in Israeli attack on 7 Jan. '09. (AP Photo/Fadi Adwan)

The main United Nations relief agency responsible for feeding 900,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza today suspended all imports of desperately needed aid after Hamas confiscated hundreds of tons of food, the second such seizure in three days.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded that Hamas immediately return the food to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which said its suspension would remain in force until such a return and “the Agency is given credible assurances from the Hamas government in Gaza that there will be no repeat of these thefts.”

Mr. Ban also called on Hamas “to refrain from interference with the provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance in Gaza,” where a three-week Israeli offensive, launched with the stated aim of ending Hamas and other rocket attacks against it, killed 1,300 Palestinians, injured more than 5,300, 34 per cent of them children, destroyed or damaged 21,000 homes, and caused widespread damage to infrastructure.

He reiterated Security Council calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian aid, including food, fuel and medical treatment, throughout Gaza.

The seizures followed repeated UNRWA warnings that not nearly enough food and other vital supplies were getting through because of Israel's closure of most crossing points into Gaza. Just hours before the latest seizure, UNRWA Director of Operations in Gaza John Ging had warned that the Agency would suspend operations if there was a repeat.

Although the amount stolen in the first seizure was small, “it's massive in its significance because they've crossed a red line,” Mr. Ging said.

During the night of 5 February 10 truckloads of flour and rice were taken from the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza, UNRWA said in a statement. “They had been imported from Egypt for collection by UNRWA today,” it added. “The food was taken away by trucks contracted by the Ministry of Social Affairs. Two hundred metric tons of rice and 100 metric tons of flour were taken.”

On Tuesday, 3,500 blankets and over 400 food parcels were taken at gunpoint from a distribution store in Beach Camp in Gaza. Hamas said it would give out the aid itself and Mr. Ging yesterday told Hamas to “stop the nonsense that they've been coming out with trying to justify what they did and accept that it was an egregious error.”

Mr. Ging has repeatedly called on Israel to throw open the border crossings to full access for relief supplies, including food, medicine, non-food items and essential reconstruction materials.

In a related development, Israel has said that aid from a ship it intercepted off Gaza would be sent in overland while 10 Lebanese citizens on board would be handed back through the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) position at Ras Naqoura.

The Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory (UNSCO) reported today that, because of the difficulties in obtaining food, 88 per cent of Gaza's 1.4 million inhabitants are now registered to receive food aid from UNRWA and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

For its part, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that the Gaza City Wastewater Treatment Plant continues to discharge 60 million litres of raw sewage into the sea every day due to damage sustained during the Israeli offensive, which ended nearly three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, only 15 per cent, or some $90 million, of the $613 million UN flash appeal that was recently launched for Gaza has been pledged or contributed so far, OCHA said.

Mr. Ban's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy told UN Radio that children in Gaza told her “horrific stories” of witnessing their family members being killed, while in Ashkelon, in southern Israel, she saw firsthand how children live under fear of missile attacks, which leads to psycho-social issues.

Ms. Coomaraswamy, who has just finished a four-day tour of the conflict region, also met with a youth group in the West Bank, who openly expressed their despair and anger – not only against Israel but against the international community, who they accused of not acting.

For its part, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today voiced deep concern at the recent Israeli-Hamas fighting, noting that it resulted in heavy civilian casualties, including the killing and injuring of a large number of women and children.

“The Committee notes with deep concern that the human rights of women and children in Gaza, in particular to peace and security, free movement, livelihood and health, have been seriously violated during this military engagement,” it said in a statement issued in Geneva.


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