UN halts aid to Gaza after tons of food aid is seized

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The United Nations has halted aid shipments to the Gaza Strip after Hamas' Ministry of Social Affairs confiscated ten truck loads of flour and rice on Thursday. This is the second seizure of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) aid by the ministry, which polices the Gaza Strip for Hamas. On Tuesday, UNRWA said that blankets and food were seized at gun-point from a distribution center.

UNRWA logo

Hamas has acknowledged the seizure and called it a "mistake."

According to Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum, Social Affairs Minister Ahmed al Kurd has ordered "the aid to be returned to the agency if it turns out it is indeed its property."

Barhoum further asserted that neither Hamas nor UNRWA was present when the trucks were loaded and crossed the border at Kerem Shalom. He blamed the drivers for assuming that the supplies must have belonged to Hamas.

Barhoum also said that Hamas appreciates UNRWA's work and does not like to see its relief work to stop.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, through a spokesperson, demanded that Hamas immediately return the food to UNRWA. Ban also called on Hamas "to refrain from interference with the provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance in Gaza."

Ban Ki-moon

Michèle Montas, the UN spokesperson, said that Ban "demands that Hamas immediately release the consignment of humanitarian goods it seized last night, in the second such incident this week, and to refrain from interference with the provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance."

UNRWA said in a statement that aid will be halted until "the Agency is given credible assurances from the Hamas government in Gaza that there will be no repeat of these thefts."

"They had been imported from Egypt for collection by UNRWA today," the statement 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."

Ban's spokesperson, Montas, was asked whether UNRWA was favoring Fatah supporters over the rival Hamas. She ruled out that there was a political dimension to UN aid activities in Gaza.

"What we do is (to) give assistance to people who need it, regardless of their political affiliation," said Montas.

According to the UN, the recent Israeli offensive killed 1,300 Palestinians, injured more than 5,300, and destroyed or damaged 21,000 homes amidst widespread damage to infrastructure. It says there is an urgent need for humanitarian aid, and cited Security Council calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution of such aid.