UN halts Gaza aid over 'thefts'
The UN aid agency in Gaza says it has suspended all aid shipments,
accusing the Hamas government of seizing hundreds of tonnes of food
Ten truckloads of flour
and rice were taken from the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom
crossing, the UN's Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) said.
Hamas admitted that a "mistake" was made and says it will return the goods.
But Unwra says deliveries will not restart until it has assurances that such
seizures will not happen again.
Gaza is facing a humanitarian crisis after Israel's three-week offensive.
About half the population is dependent on UN food aid.
Israel intensified a blockade on the territory 19 months ago when Hamas took
over the territory.
The lifting of the blockade is among Hamas's demands for agreeing a long-term
truce with Israel.
On Friday the group's exiled leader, Khaled Meshaal, told a rally in
Syria that Israel still had not given the necessary undertakings for
such a truce.
Unrwa said the trucks of food had been imported from Egypt, and had
been due to be collected by its staff at the Kerem Shalom crossing in
southern Gaza on Friday.
"The food was taken away by trucks contracted by the Ministry of Social
Affairs," the agency said in a statement.
It said aid deliveries would only be resumed if Hamas returned all the
aid and provides "credible assurances" that it would not happen again.
It was the second incident in three days. On Tuesday,
3,500 blankets and more than 400 food parcels were seized at gunpoint
from a distribution centre in Gaza, the UN said.
The Hamas government's social affairs minister ordered
"the aid to be returned to the agency if it turns out it is indeed its
property", Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said, according to AFP news
He said no Hamas or Unrwa representatives had been
present at the crossing when drivers loaded up the aid supplies, and
the drivers had assumed they belonged to the Hamas government.
But the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Gaza City says Hamas has
recently expressed anger that aid agencies do not co-ordinate aid
deliveries with it. Hamas has previously said all financial donations
should be distributed through its administration, he adds.
The UN has increased its food distribution in recent
weeks to cover 900,000 of Gaza's population of 1.5 million following
Israel's offensive against Hamas that began in December.
The UN, along with most of the Western world, does not deal directly with the
Hamas leadership, which governs the Gaza Strip.
But it does have contacts with Hamas-appointed ministers and civil
servants, strictly on technical issues related to the delivery of its
humanitarian services in line with wider UN policy.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/02/06 16:41:07 GMT
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