Thursday, February 5, 2009
The United Nations relief agency United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is demanding that Hamas return food and blankets intended for Gaza Strip civilians in Palestine, which was seized by Hamas’ Ministry of Social Affairs.
According to UNRWA, the supplies were seized on Tuesday by Hamas police. The 3,500 blankets and 406 parcels of food were intended to help 500 families affected by the recent Israel–Gaza conflict.
“UNRWA condemns in the strongest terms the confiscation of its aid supplies and has demanded that it is returned immediately,” wrote UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness in a press release.
“They were armed. They seized this. They took it by force,” Gunness added, speaking to the press. He called the incident “absolutely unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, The Palestinian Information Center, a Hamas-centric website, reported that Ismail Haniyeh‘s government denies the UNRWA allegations. Further, it says that the supplies were put in police custody after Hamas learned that they were only being distributed to Fatah supporters.
“UNRWA did not do what it said it would do, and began distributing its aid to groups that tie their activities to political activism,” said Ahmad Kurd, the Hamas official in charge of the Ministry of Social Affairs, to the Associated Press.
John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said, “The United Nations cannot accept under any circumstances the diversion of aid by a party to a conflict.”
“We are very concerned, but this is an isolated incident, we hope,” said Alix de Mauny, of the European Commission, which is among the largest donors of aid money to the Palestinians. “We will react accordingly if this develops beyond an isolated incident.”
However, Israel indicated that it believes that Hamas routinely seizes aid meant for civilians.
“We have said in the past that we know Hamas is stealing humanitarian aid and donations from international organizations,” said Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesperson.
Gunness denied that assertion. “Does anyone really think that the Americans, who are our single largest donor, or the Europeans, who are our largest multination donor, would give us aid in the generous way they do if they thought that aid would go to terrorists?” he said.