UN halts aid over Hamas 'theft'
a.. Griff Witte, Gaza City
b.. February 8, 2009
A UNITED Nations aid agency that serves more than half the 1.5 million
residents of the Gaza Strip has suspended humanitarian shipments, accusing
Hamas of confiscating UN material for the second time in a week.
The UN Relief and Works Agency said Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls
Gaza, had seized 10 trucks filled with rice and flour. Earlier last week, the
agency had accused Hamas' police force of confiscating blankets and food from a
UN-affiliated warehouse. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Hamas to
release the aid immediately. In a statement from New York, the UN said the
suspension would remain in place "until the aid is returned and the agency is
given credible assurances from the Hamas Government in Gaza that there will be
no repeat of these thefts".
The suspension comes as Gaza's residents are still reeling from the effects of
a 22-day Israeli offensive in the coastal territory.
About 1300 Palestinians died in the conflict, which ended nearly three weeks
ago with a tenuous ceasefire. Thousands more were injured or left homeless.
Thirteen Israelis were killed in the war, which Israel says was intended to
halt persistent Hamas rocket fire from the strip.
Hamas officials in Gaza denied that the Islamist movement had seized the
trucks, saying there had been a misunderstanding. But in an interview, Hamas
Economics Minister Ziyad al-Zaza defended the group's decision to take 3500
blankets and 400 food packages from the warehouse.
Mr Zaza said some employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency had been telling
recipients that the aid was a gift of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas. Mr Abbas is leader of the Fatah party, Hamas' chief Palestinian rival.
"UNRWA is supposed to do work that is purely humanitarian," Mr Zaza said. "But
some of their employees want to use the aid to play politics."
John Ging, head of the relief agency in Gaza, called the allegation "nonsense",
saying Hamas' actions had "crossed a red line".
"We're not going to bring aid in here and let it be hijacked by Hamas or anyone
else," he said.
Fatah has had no formal presence in Gaza since June 2007, when Hamas forces
routed Abbas loyalists. Since then, Mr Abbas' power has been confined to the
West Bank, while Hamas has had control in Gaza.
Hamas defeated Fatah in 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.
Israel has placed strict restrictions on the transfer of goods into Gaza since
the Hamas takeover.
The embargo has severely curtailed reconstruction efforts since the war ended.
Israel Defence Forces spokesman Major Peter Lerner said Hamas' seizure of the
aid was evidence that it intended to use any materials sent into the strip for
its own gain rather than to help the broader population.
Hamas has been pushing for border crossings to be opened during negotiations in
Egypt aimed at producing a ceasefire of a year or more. "We will not accept a
truce unless it is in return for lifting the siege, opening border crossings
and acceleration of the reconstruction of Gaza," Hamas leader Khaled Meshal